Sunday, January 4, 2009

Tell me about your mother

Current book: Midnight's Children
Pages read: 133-188

All right, so I'm back on track with the reading after the rude truncation of my holiday break yesterday. (I mean, really, a girl needs some time to mentally prepare herself for going back to work, and an hour and a half on Saturday morning is not it.) To be fair, I could have read in the evening, but instead I got Chinese food and watched Sex and the City with my friend Kate, and I think it was wise, in the interests of maintaining my sanity.

Anyway, back to Rushdie. So, ok, the plot's improving, sort of, but we're still incredibly focused on the small and bizarre details of our main character's everyday life (which currently consists of infancy, and I don't know anyone who finds that interesting aside from doting parents). I'm reading along at a fairly good clip, interrupted only by the occasional loss of continuity (like on page 157, where he reintroduces the main character's grandmother, who I was pretty sure was dead at that point. I think I may have interpreted her metaphysical death as an actual death. That was the day I was reading while working out, so my sweat-blurred vision may have misled me. Or I just wanted her to die and got carried away. It's hard to say.), but I'm really beginning to wonder how much credit to give Rushdie. He's taking his poetic interpretation of things kind of far. Here's an example - he has a discussion on 139-140 of someone in the house pointing at a portrait with his finger. It doesn't seem particularly mysterious or symbolic on a basic level, does it? And yet, Rushdie makes it into this portentous moment where the finger is really pointing at not only the portrait, but everything beyond it, and ends by saying,

" Or was a finger of warning, its purpose to draw attention to itself; yes, it could have been, why not, a prophecy of another finger, a finger not dissimilar from itself, whose entry into my story would release the dreadful logic of Alpha and Omega..."

What? Some guy points at a portrait and somehow we've reached the dreadful logic of Alpha and Omega? Remind me not to go around pointing at stuff lest I unleash nuclear holocaust, because wouldn't that be awkward. The tone kind of makes it sound tongue-in-cheek, but it happens so often that I'm afraid it's annoying whether it's supposed to be humorous or not. (Though I should have seen the finger thing coming, since the chapter title is "The Fisherman's Pointing Finger".) Suffice it to say, things are a little on the heavy side.

There's some really cool and successful symbolism going on, though, too, like when Saleem (the main character, whose name I should have told you a long time ago) describes his father as a fighter of djinni. He tells an excellent story that parallels his father's battle with alcoholism with his childhood fantasies of his father fighting "bottled spirits." I know, it's kind of one giant pun, but it's charming and, dare I say it, poignant. I really want more moments like this one from the book, and instead I keep getting a lot of attempts that turn out clumsy. Also, there is this completely bizarre focus on excreta and bodily fluids. I don't know if Rushdie wants his narrator to seem childish, or whether he personally is fascinated by this sort of thing, but I've heard way too much about snot and vomit and bowel movements. (Don't make me talk about Freud, Rushdie. Nobody wants that.)

So, nearly 200 pages in and we're basically still observing the early childhood of our narrator. There are a couple of things I'm wondering about, especially with the symbolic parallels with India: first, what's going on with Saleem's mother? She kind of seems to represent old Indian values, sort of in a "Mother India" kind of way, and yet she's currently providing for the family (rather than Saleem's father), and she's doing it by winning money at the racetrack. So that's weird. Also, Saleem now has a little sister (commonly referred to as the Brass Monkey, ostensibly because of her hair colour, but I think it's an excuse for Rushdie to seem quirkier) who was born just after Gandhi died, and I can't figure out what she's supposed to be. New generation of politicians, maybe? Finally, and also bizarrely, Saleem has a Cyrano de Bergerac type of nose, and it seems central to the story. It's apparently big enough that it causes people to gape at him on the street, give him weird nicknames, make fun of him in school, the whole deal. Perhaps it's an excuse for Rushdie to talk about snot more, but I'd like to reconcile it with the India parallels and I don't really know how.

Maybe I'm just giving Rushdie too much credit by trying to come up with an elaborate network of symbols for everything to correspond to. (Yes, that sentence ended with a preposition. But it's ok because I'm writing a sardonic parenthetical about it. Right?) I want them to be all perfect, but they don't seem to be (perhaps because I don't know enough Indian history?). I'm hoping there'll be a giant epiphany at the end of all this, 'cause otherwise I'm skeptical that it's worthy of the List.

Also, did we really need the scene where Saleem sees his mother masturbate? I thought it seemed like a bit much. ::coughFreudcough::


  1. Man, if I had a nickel for every time I misinterpreted metaphorical death...

    Also: "...and yet she's currently providing for the family (rather than Saleem's father)" She's providing for the family instead of providing for Saleem's father? What? :-)

  2. I knew that sentence seemed wrong.

    I mean...sometimes I write incorrectly so that you won't be made uncomfortable by my perfection



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