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Needed a stronger editor!
on 23 November 2006
I've read several Rusdie books before over the years - Midnight's Children first, then the Ground Beneath Her Feet, and also Fury. Despite enjoying all three thoroughly (well, less so Fury, which disintegrates towards the end) I've never felt the compulsion that you get with some authors to read the entire oeuvre. A lot of people tell me that they find Rusdie hard to get into, and often give up in the first 100 pages. To do so is a great shame, as they will miss some wonderful story-telling, but I can understand their reasons - particularly with the Moor's Last Sigh. Initially, it feels a little too much like a re-hash of Midnight's children - the family saga told by the child who - as a result of the cirumstances of their birth - experiences life in a strange and unique manner. With Midnight's Children it was the special powers conferred on those born closest to the clock chime of India's independence, with Moor's Last Sigh it is the double-speed existence for our narrator - a 4 and 1/2 month pregnancy, and each year being two in his body's development.
Similarly, for the union of the grand parents in Midnight's Children (the bed sheet with holes through which, as young suitors, the grandfather slowly pieces together the appearance of the grandmother) we have, in Moor's Last Sigh, the first sexual encounter between mother and father on the spice sacks in a warehouse of the family business. On both occassions the metaphors involved stretch beyond breaking point. There is no denying that Rushdie is a wonderful writer, but at times in the Moor's Last Sigh, it tests the patience. There is meaning in every insignificant detail and thåt meanning is described playfully, and - frustratingly - at great length. It wears you down. Everything is just so loaded with metaphor, that the good ones merge into the ordinary and the bad and overwhelm you. This is Rushdie on full throttle, and no editor appears to be on hand to tell him to apply the brakes. If this is your first Rushdie it may seem glorious - I don't know - but after having read others, I often found it irritating. Particularly as, in the last 150 pages, the writing tightens, the plot come to the fore, we are left with a wonderfully atmospheric and vivid climax. The story itself is rich and strong and the conclusion so well handled that I couldn't help but look back and wish the whole book had been written with such control.
Good book if you can get past the opening few hundred pages, but not a classic, and not one to re-read, because the writing smothers the reader as often as it soars.