Midnight’s Children (1980) by Salman Rushdie has been sitting unread on the shelves of my home since 1983 – this is my mother’s copy. Rushdie himself, surrounded in controversy and death threats, is somewhat of a legend and the novel is the 1981 winner of the Booker Prize – I entered its pages with high expectations. Having just finished the last sentence, I honestly do not know how I feel. I veered between love and hate, boredom and obsession.
To be honest, it was quite like being trapped in a mine – I’d pull up chunks of diamond, but other times I would be claustrophobic and pulling up dust. The diamonds though, sparkle unlike any other and keep you going – because it’s worth it.
“Most of what matters in our lives takes place in our absence”
His writing is pretty but I feel like he’s full of himself. I feel I can hear him patting himself on the back while reading his self-congratulatory prose.
“Things – even people – have a way of leaking into each other… like flavours when you cook.. the past has dripped into me so we can’t ignore it”.
His writing style is a bit jumpy – used as a writing tool to create drama I suppose. But I find the scattered effect actually hinders the plot. He thinks he’s very clever but a lot of the time I have no idea what he’s on about.
Rushdie also wants to make it SUPER clear that he’s using an unreliable narrator. It’s not done subtly like in The Great Gatsby, or in Good Me, Bad Me. In fact, I’m pretty sure he practically spelled it out for us: hi, my name is Saleem, I’m biased and unreliable and yet I’m your only way into the story and this is the best literary tool I can provide you with.
“Life had once again, perversely, refused to remain life-sized”
Poverty, communism and incest seem to be a common theme among the Indian-authored novels I’ve read this year (The God of Small Things, A State of Freedom & The Lives of Others). So is the refusal to follow a chronological story-line, a love for adding mystery where it really isn’t needed, a penchant for jumbled flows of consciousness and calling the same thing or person by multiple names.
“It’s like being surrounded by some terrible monster, a creature with heads and heads and heads; but she corrects herself, no, of course not a monster, these poor poor people – what then? A power of some sort, a force which does not know its strength, which has perhaps decayed into impotence through never having been used … No, these are not decayed people, despite everything”
Maybe because of the way people see impoverished masses and hardships on a daily basis across India, and because of the quotidian, ubiquitous reality of it, Indian authors seem to be able to deliver delivers bad news, throngs of slums and murder without dragging down the readers. Atrocities aren’t even necessarily plot tools, they can be commonplace background noise. However, Midnight’s Children is not nearly as depressing as The Lives of Others even though it touches on similar subjects.
“Disasters, in the city of my youth, dance to the occult music of a horse’s grey, stone hooves”
The genre of the is magical realism (in the same genre is Love in the Time of Cholera, which I admit I did enjoy a bit more) and this gives him room to create wild, lush images. This is exactly what I loved the most of this book, the burst of flavours and nonsensical dreams.
“Time, in my experience, has been as variable and inconsistent as Bombay’s electric power supply”
This is NOT a fast read by any means. Especially when his rambling leads towards the cumbersome instead of the endearing. You have to take your time with it, chew properly and don’t rush. (This being said I am totally guilty of skimming through the last few chapters just to get through with reading this book). Strangely enough, I loved this book, in spite of all my whining.
“I no longer want to be anything except what who I am. Who what am I? My answer: I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I’ve gone which would not have happened if I had not come. Nor am I particularly exceptional in this matter; each ‘I’, every one of the now-six-hundred-million-plus of us, contains a similar multitude. I repear for the last time: to understand me, you’ll have to swallow a world”
The protagonist’s self-appraisals swing from being special and being only one obscure person in the vast multitude of humanity. This is true of all of us, this confluence of unique and insignificant (or not insignificant, but just a part of something much bigger). The confluence of fleeting lives and the permanence of legacy/inheritance.
“If I seem a little bizarre, remember the wild profusion of my inheritance… perhaps, if one wishes to remain an individual in the midst of teeming multitudes, one must make oneself grotesque”
The author goes from macro to micro; I like how we are all sum-of-parts but also parts-of-the-whole(world/universe). I like the idea of personal history being both influenced by and influencing world history. BUT maybe it’s just because I’m not familiar with Indian history, or I don’t care enough about politics but I found the ‘macro’ parts to be somewhat boring. The detailed explanations of political going-ons and different parties etc. lost my attention.
“The air was filled with the stickiness of aroused desires. What grows best in the heat: fantasy; unreason; lust”
This is definitely a quotable book. But sometimes I just wish he would stop DRONING on and on. I was relieved to finish this book, it took so long to get through, but I loved the last line.
And now, I’m going to leave you with my favourite quotes to prove that it is, in fact, worth the read.
- “It is dangerous to look too long at death; otherwise you come away with a little of it inside you”
- “Although we found it easy to be brilliant, we were always confused about being good”
- “Nothing but trouble outside my head, nothing but miracles inside it”
- “Human beings, like nations and fictional characters, can simply run out of steam, and then there’s nothing for it but to finish with them”
- “A human being, inside himself, is anything but a whole, anything but homogeneous; all kinds of everywhichthing are jumbled up inside him, and he is one person one minute and another the next”
- “The promise of exotic futures has always seemed, to my mind, the perfect antidote to the disappointments of the present”