So finally I have conquered the Booker of Booker’s Salman Rushdie’s epic novel Midnights Children. Like Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin I have been finding it difficult to review such an epic and complex novel (seriously this about the fourth time I have sat down and tried to review it so I hope that I get it right this time). I did wonder if reading the Booker of Booker’s was a wise decision when I had only read about five other Booker winners. Would it be too much of a mission?
Midnights Children, let there be no doubt, is a huge novel and not only as it is a grand 675 pages long. Though what is essentially the tale of a mans life in India growing up born on the hour of its independence and all that follows it’s a book that looks at our families life before us, our environments, genealogy, culture and how all of these things make us who we are. It also takes us into the surreal, as the narrator himself is certainly not the most reliable of narrators you will ever come across in fact he sometimes worries himself with the order of events in his mind when he knows they can come out wrong as he crafts his tale and his history.
Our narrator is Saleem Sinai also known as Snotnose, Baldy, Buddha and Piece-of-the- Moon. He is born on the exact stroke of midnight on August 15th 1947 also the exact moment that India became independent after British Colonisation. This makes him special as only he and one other boy of the 1001 born in the first hour of independence actually arrived dead on the midnight hour. However before you find out just why Saleem is so special Rushdie takes you through his heritage and his family background and looks at the question ‘are you born with all your ancestors baggage attached to you before you have even drawn your first breathe?’ I found this idea absolutely fascinating. Not only does he look at that huge question, through Saleem’s family history and indeed through the years that Saleem tells us of his growing up Rushdie shows you how the landscape, religious and political tensions and society changed in India.
Before I get to the ‘surrealism’ I should also mention that one of the other things that makes Saleem so special is the fact that he can get into peoples mind’s read their thoughts and even see through their eyes. In fact as it turns out all of the ‘midnight children’ have some sort of powers that make them unique and also very different from any other children born the day before or the hours after. Which opens up even more interesting tales and made me think that Rushdie might just have had his idea’s “borrowed” for a certain ‘heroic’ TV series, maybe?
Now one thing that scared me off the book before I read it, bar the length - as long books and myself have a funny relationship, was the dreaded ‘surrealism’ word. Now I don’t personally hold anything against books that use surrealism the whole point of fiction to me is to escape. What I don’t like is when it is done to be ‘out there’ or get noticed. I didn’t think that this sudden twist in the tale, there are quite a few unexpected twists in this novel making you wonder just how much genius there must be in Rushdie’s head, did anything other than make the book even more enthralling and fantastic. I admit it I was completely hooked.
It’s not just the extreme storylines that are surreal though its some of the paragraphs of prose which to me read almost like fairy tales throughout the book and who out there didn’t love fairy tales as a child? For example the love story of Saleem’s Grandparents who met when he was a doctor and she his patient only he could only see her via a small hole in a sheet used to cover her modesty when she needed to be examined. They fall in love without ever seeing each other, beautiful. It’s almost a shame she becomes such a sour faced old lady in the end… only it isn’t because what wonderful characters those are.
That is another thing that teems throughout this book. The characters, not only is Saleem himself a great character so are his family, especially his sister ‘Brass Monkey’ in his childhood along with his tempestuous Grandmother. His alcoholic father and adulterous (though not in the way you would think) mother are wonderfully written, in fact his mothers story like his Grandparents love story could have made two more books just by themselves. There is his wonderful wife Padma ‘Godess of Dung’ and possibly my favourite all the cat shooting, bicycle stunt loving American new girl on the block Evelyn Burns who in Saleem’s pre-teen years becomes a femme fatale and young tyrant all in one. Every character is fully formed in this book even if they only show up for just one page.
Overall I think this is a complete masterpiece. Some people will of course hate it, some will find it hard work and some will be taken away by the beautiful prose, the fairy like quality of a true epic tale. (I have to add here this last few years I have read some wonderful fiction based in India or from Indian writers that I am simply going to have to go there – I have quite fallen in love with it.) The latest Rushdie novel The Enchantress of Florence has just jumped about twenty places up my TBR pile, I only hope its as good as it does seem I have started with his best work! Let me know if his others are as good and what your experiences with Rushdie have been like!?!