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Here, there, and everywhere in between


Like most good Rushdie books, Shalimar the Clown draws reviews that span the whole spectrum from terrible to terrific.

John Updike is decidedly lukewarm in his New Yorker review, but one does get the feeling his grouse is with the author's *. Rushdie's writes in an over-the-top, hectic manner and Updike obviously dislikes it (“James Joyce and T. S. Eliot established brainy allusions as part of modernity's literary texture, but at the risk of making the author's brain the most vital presence on the page.”) – he never quite gets over his issues with style to review the book substantively.

Why has Rushdie attached a gaudy celebrity name to a different sort of celebrity, preventing the Ambassador from coming into sharp, living focus on his own? It is partly, perhaps, characteristic Rushdiean overflow. His novels pour by in a sparkling, voracious onrush, each wave topped with foam, each paragraph luxurious and delicious, but the net effect perilously close to stultification. His prose hops with dropped names, compulsive puns, learned allusions, winks at the reader, and repeated bows to popular culture. His plots proceed by verbal connection and elaboration as much as by character interaction.

Rushdie as a literary performer suffers, I think, from being not just an author but a cause célèbre and a free-speech martyr, thanks to the fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini in the wake of “The Satanic Verses” (1988), a playful work that precipitated riots in India and Pakistan, and gave American and English publishers and booksellers an early taste of heightened security. The fatwa, which invited any good Muslim to kill Rushdie, was withdrawn in 1998, but a decade of living in hiding deepened this previously gregarious author's expertise on two subjects: celebrity and human cruelty. His fascination with fame and theatricality, movies and rock music predated the fatwa, and gives his fiction a distracting glitter, like shaken tinsel.

In the Detroit Free Press, Marta Salij gushes: (link through Prufrock).

Better? It will have to be, because I have no more. Prepare for magic when reading “Shalimar the Clown,” the kind of magic that comes from a novelist weaving a story worthy of his genius - and the kind of magic that comes from a novel that opens you to seeing the world as you never supposed. I have warned you.

Justine Hardy, writing for the Times, starts his review off with,

THE PUPPET MASTER IS BACK. He was absent for a while, busy with re-invention, polemic and courtship. The intervening years have perhaps softened him to the extent that he almost allows us to believe that we are independently able to grasp his art. But no, with a snap, he reminds us that he holds the strings. We just get to dance around beneath his elevated acrobatics, bragging to our friends that yes, indeed we understand how the tightrope tricks are done.

before pulling back a little bit at the end:

This is an important book, a wonderful reversing story with a cast of characters with names that are not their names, and ideals that have been thrust upon them, but this is not a real study of the anatomy of terrorist warfare or its perpetrators. Remember this as you read this vast story set in a splintering world reflected in lakes.

I can't wait for September 6 (although where I am, it'll probably be September 6, 2006).