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Sunday 18 March 2012

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

By now you must be thinking that all I ever do is read books written by ladies. Whilst it's true that I have spent some time shifting the balance to incorporate more works by my fellow female I do, in fact, also read books written by men. And I'm here to prove it. Because as part of my mammoth reading challenge, I read Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie.

So, what's to say about Midnight's Children? For a start off, Midnight's Children was a Booker Prize winner and then the Booker of Booker's prize winner (being the best Booker of Bookers...or something along those lines) so you can feel reassured that it's a pretty good book. And it is. It is an excellent book. Well written, engaging, funny, massive in scope, crazy-confusing-andabitmad. But I didn't like it. Does that make any sense? Not really. Read on and see if you can figure it out.

So the story of Midnight's Children follows the life of Saleem Sanai, a boy who was born on the stroke of midnight on the day of the 'birth' of new India, India's independence from Britain. And later in the novel, but not much later, we learn that Saleem, like all the other children born between midnight and 1am on that day, has special powers, special powers that are a threat to Mother India.

There's so much packed into this novel that it's hard to know where to start to tell you about it. So I don't think I will. Suffice to say that this novel is jam packed full of information, characters, events, thoughts and circumstances. From Saleem's Grandfather Aadam Aziz's hole in his chest where God used to be, to the massacre of hundreds of innocents by the British Army, to Tai the boat man and his unwashed, mad, ravings, to Mumtaz Aziz and her secret fantasies of a lanky haired, podgy poet, to prophesies, to Pakistan, to coups, to pickles and child swapping, this book has pretty much got it all. If you enjoy reading novels which are clever, well written and dizzyingly complicated, this is definitely a novel for you.

And I like all those things, but for me the storytellery approach just made me feel excluded. I felt like I was watching a play that was put on for the benefit of the actors, and as a consequence I just felt a bit left out. And maybe not clever enough to understand it (though I could follow the story well enough). There's a lot to take in with this novel. There are a lot of characters, and a lot of history. There are allusions to the 1001 nights (which I wish I'd read all the way through...maybe this year?) and Indian history, hinduism. The main character, Saleem, talks of himself in the third person, as though he is mythologising his own history. And he's an unreliable narrator, he admits as much. So we're left, at the end, wondering if we've been conned, or whether we've witnessed the inevitable fallability of memory. I don't know. I'm still not sure what to think.

I'm sure I missed 1001 things from this dense, intelligent and well written book. I was left in no doubt of Salman Rushdie's superior intelligence, his skill in story telling, his imaginativeness and brilliance. But it was all so shining I guess it left me feeling a bit dull and grubby. And contrasted with the equally skilled but inclusive writings of, say, David Mitchell (who I totally love, I'll get to him eventually) it just didn't do it for me.

So, in the end, Midnight's Children gets a conflicted 9/10 for skill and imagination, it's definitely an excellent book but 4/10 for enjoyment.

Weird, I know.

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