Released between the critically acclaimed 'Midnight's Children' and the hugely controversial 'The Satanic Verses', Rushdie's 'Shame' is a book which has been largely forgotten and overlooked in recent years; but is it a novel which can stand toe-to-toe with Rushdie's best? Not really. The novel centers, unsurprisingly, around the idea of shame, weaving a self-consciously uncertain, and often fragmented tale of upper class Pakistani life, but also of the cruelties, suppression and rumour of a country which has seen it's fair share of conflict. There are flashes of Rushdie's brilliance in the book, such as in his exploration of the martyrdom of the wrongly revered former President Iskander Harappa, and in his discussion of issues like censorship, but too often the book stumbles. Rushdie's treatment of the brain-damaged Sufiya Zinobia is perhaps the novel's biggest mis-step, a bizarre story which seems to link her deficincies to evil, and by rumour, transforms her into a mythical white panther. The mystical elements of Rushdie's novels has rarely seemed so poorly used.
On the whole, 'Shame' is a work with definite promise, and some interesting explorations of the danger of restrictions on social freedoms, as well as a curious, and in-depth exploration of the issue of Shame itself, but this is a novel which never quite finds its footing, and passages of the book seem both akward, strange, and even rather dull. For Rushdie fans, there's enough here to make this a worthwhile, if rather frustrating read; but for the uninitiated, this is far from Rushdie's best work, and probably not the place to start.