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Convoluted mish-mash of post-modernist drivel,
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This review is from: The Satanic Verses: A Novel (Paperback)
This is a big, sprawling mess of a novel splayed across eras, genres, cultures, continents and just about anything else you could care to throw in the mix. The central themes revolve around "identity" and "metamorphosis" and Rushdie's hyperactive imagination crafts a colourful, multi-layered narrative in which the worlds of illusion and reality dizzyingly coalesce. The faintly discernible main plot centres on the cavorts of two curious characters - Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha - who plummet from an exploding plane to experience an astonishing range of - quite frankly - bizarre transformations.
Rushdie is rooted firmly in the destabilised genre of postmodernist literature - characterised, amongst other things, by parody, dissolution and the blurring of boundaries - and evokes the rhetorical device of "magical realism" to present a jumbled and confusing phantasmagoria. The book itself reads like a LSD hallucination - a jazzed-up version of Alice's wacky "trip" to Wonderland where angels, demons, beasts, halos and London buses are all transmogrified into a skewered disarray of reality. There's several stories all mixed up and unfolding at once here so be prepared to roll your sleeves up and wade through the thick slush of imagery on offer.
Rushdie is an exuberant wordsmith spinning out words endlessly into reams of dense, textured descriptions yet this, counter-productively, stifles the narrative of its readability value. In fact, some of his sentences are longer than whole paragraphs in other, "more normal" books and, like a microcosm of the text as a whole, the reader is forced to persevere with a plethora of sub-clauses (sub-plots) and go down needless linguistic cul-de-sacs before scratching his head at the end and thinking "what was the point of that?!" Don't get me wrong: this is a rich feast of language, but our poor chef has thrown in way too many ingredients to leave the reader with any kind of taste worth savouring.
So what of the Ayatollah and his fatwa and Rushdie's overt and perverse digs at Islam? Of course, this is the reason I (and probably most others) picked up the book in the first place: to see for myself what all the fuss was about. So was it worth the effort? In a word: no. Extricating two chapters from the whole, messy splurge is a tiresome and frustrating exercise. As with so many other things, Muslims in this case ended up being their own worst enemies with reactionary emotional diatribes and miscalculated responses. Was it not for this, I have no doubt that - based upon literary merit alone - this book would have sunk, largely, without trace.
To conclude, let me quote the late and great British scholar Charles Le Gai Eaton:
"Modern Western art, particularly in the form of the novel, has become an instrument of self-exposure and, in most cases, what is exposed is inner sickness. The novelist works out his 'complexes' in writing. He exteriorises his despair and parades before the public all the elements of ugliness and disease present in his soul...This freedom of artistic expression appears, from the [traditional] perspective, no more than a license to vomit in public."