Sunday, January 11, 2009


Current book: Midnight's Children
Pages read: 485-533 (end)

Well, finally done, and I'm not sorry to see the end of Mr. Rushdie, I have to say. By the close of the novel, Saleem had been arrested, named all of the children of midnight as traitors to the Indian government (which resulted in their forced sterilization), gotten re-united with his surrogate mother, and met his future wife (who we'd been hearing about in the narration from time to time and seems like one of the only sane and likable characters in the whole thing). Remember how I said it felt a little rushed at the end? That certainly didn't go away. I kind of hate Saleem for turning traitor, too, but he's so damn self-deprecating that you can't do that much about it. (It'd be like kicking a puppy. Well, like kicking a mean puppy that just bit you in the ankle, but then acted all sorry and cringy. You might do it, 'cause ow, your ankle, but you wouldn't feel good about it later. Unless you're a sociopath, and then I really can't help you.) Also, can I just take a moment to say that I love how in India you just tack the syllables "wallah" onto anything and it means "seller of"? As in "balloon-wallah" or "hot dog-wallah" or "sno-cone-wallah"? I find it charming, for reasons I can't explain.

So, how was the book? It's a difficult question. I see that there's literary merit in it, and that it treats the human condition in a new and interesting way, as well as providing a study of a period in Indian history that's key to the identity of the nation (arguably one of the most important and influential nations in the world). In some ways, then, it is a great novel, because any novel that encompasses all of those features is great. Did I like it? Not really. It didn't change my view of the world in any significant ways. I didn't find myself moved by the story or attached to its characters. So in some ways it's also a failure as a novel. That said, great literature isn't always entertaining, and entertaining literature is often far from great. This is not one of the precious few books that are able to combine greatness and entertainment, but it's still important.

I'd like to say that it has a definite message, but I don't think I actually can. It's less about making a statement and more about creating a portrait of the human lives that make up and are affected by politics. I was right days ago about that portrait, though, and I'm not convinced that Rushdie needed all 533 pages to paint it, nor that much of his stylistic annoyances were justified by their results. I think, I have to admit, that the reason this novel is so revered is because of Rushdie's body of work, rather than the particular merits of the book itself. He could have achieved what Midnight's Children achieved in a 40-page short story. Chalk one up for the Dickensian tactic of sprawling humanity, I guess. Have I read 100 better novels? I'd have to say yes.

On to Main Street. I can't say I know much about the novel, except that it was written by Sinclair Lewis, who grew up in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, hometown of a college friend of mine. My college friend actually worked at the Sinclair Lewis Boyhood Home Museum, and, when I went there for Thanksgiving one year, showed me the town billboard that proudly proclaims "Sauk Centre - Boyhood Home of Sinclair Lewis!" Ok, I lied, I know a little about the novel, and from what I understand, it's a scathing portrait of small-town America that mocks the daily life and social cruelties of that society. So, I'm thinking Sauk Centre might be a little, um, misguided... in the their pride. We'll find out. (Then again, as I recall, the biggest attraction in Sauk Centre was the two-screen movie theatre, so maybe they're taking what they can get.) There's a definite possibility that I'll be turned off by Lewis's cynicism. (Don't faint. I'm actually kind of a hopeless romantic. No, really, I swear.)

Anyway, hurray new book tomorrow!

No comments:

Post a Comment


A Clockwork Orange (5) A Good Man Is Hard to Find (4) A Passage to India (6) A Room with a View (3) A Separate Peace (2) Absalom Absalom (6) Achebe (5) Adams (3) All the King's Men (8) An American Tragedy (17) Atlas Shrugged (16) Babbitt (8) back from hiatus (1) baking (11) Baldwin (4) Baum (3) Bonfire of the Vanities (6) borderline (12) Brideshead Revisited (9) Burgess (5) Burroughs (1) canon (1) Capote (6) Cat's Cradle (3) Cather (19) cheesecake (4) Chopin (4) Conrad (5) cooking (25) Death Comes for the Archbishop (6) DeLillo (6) Dreiser (17) du Maurier (2) Edith Wharton (1) emergency (2) Ethan Frome (1) excuses (141) Faulkner (9) Felicia DeSmith (3) Finnegan's Wake (1) Fitzgerald (24) For Whom the Bell Tolls (3) Forster (19) Fowles (7) Franny and Zooey (2) Go Tell It on the Mountain (4) Grahame (2) Guest post (3) Hammett (2) Hemingway (5) hiatus (4) holiday (5) horrible (4) Howards End (6) In Cold Blood (6) In Our Time (1) Irving (6) James (25) Jazz (1) Joyce (1) Keneally (7) Kerouac (5) Kim (7) Kipling (7) Knowles (2) Lady Chatterly's Lover (6) Lawrence (26) Lewis (13) Light in August (3) London (3) Look Homeward Angel (9) Lord Jim (5) Mailer (7) Main Street (5) Midnight's Children (9) Miller (6) Morrison (1) Mrs. Dalloway (3) My Antonia (6) not a novel (4) O Pioneers (7) O'Connor (4) On the Road (5) Orlando (4) other books (7) page updates (1) Rabbit Run (4) Rand (24) Rebecca (2) recap (1) Rhys (6) Rushdie (18) Salinger (2) Schindler's List (7) Sinclair (6) Sons And Lovers (12) Sophie's Choice (10) Star Trek (1) Stein (5) Styron (10) Tender is the Night (10) The Age of Innocence (4) The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (5) The Awakening (4) The Beautiful and the Damned (8) The Bostonians (9) The Call of the Wild (3) The Fellowship of the Ring (5) The Fountainhead (8) The French Lieutenant's Woman (7) The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2) The Jungle (6) The Lord of the Rings (16) The Maltese Falcon (2) The Naked and the Dead (7) The Naked Lunch (1) The Old Man and the Sea (1) The Portrait of a Lady (10) The Return of the King (6) The Satanic Verses (9) The Two Towers (5) The War of the Worlds (4) The Wind in the Willows (2) The Wings of the Dove (6) The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (3) The World According to Garp (6) Things Fall Apart (6) This Side of Paradise (6) Thomas Wolfe (9) To the Lighthouse (3) Tolkien (16) Tom Wolfe (6) Triv (2) Tropic of Cancer (6) unworthy (33) Updike (4) vacation (2) Vonnegut (3) Warren (8) Waugh (9) Wells (4) Wharton (4) Where Angels Fear to Tread (4) White Noise (6) Wide Sargasso Sea (6) Women In Love (8) Woolf (10) worthy (25)