Yay, back to blogging! Perhaps I really need deadlines to get things (blogging) done, because telling myself to get it together didn’t really work. Guess that means I should not be a boxing coach (one job to cross off the list 😉 ). But Jo from Bibliojunkie is hosting a read-along of Midnight Children, and it looks like this was the kick I needed to finally read some Rushdie and post something. So thank you, Jo! 🙂
I read Book 1 of Midnight’s Children today and now I’m wondering, why was I so intimidated and reluctant to pick it up? Rushdie’s works come with a lot of history and reputation, but most of all, they are thick books. I know a lot of you read chunksters regularly, but I’m more of a 300-400 page book reader. After finishing a particularly great book I always wish it had been longer of course, but a chunkster is more of a commitment, one that I shy away from, even if it is a “small” chunkster. But today, carrying this one around with me from home to the train to uni and back, I remembered the comfort of thick, well-worn books (paperbacks, I’m not a masochist). I just wish I could always be sure I’d love a chunkster before starting reading (mainly because I’m still bad with not finishing books, even ones I don’t enjoy).
And now for Midnight’s Children (finally, I know), I’m really enjoying it so far. It’s about Saleem Sinai, our likeable if unreliable narrator, born on the stroke of midnight, exactly as India gains its independence. As such, Saleem’s (hi)story and that of his country are irretrievably intertwined. His narrative is not a linear one, it is made up of fragments, representing the fragments in Saleem’s personal history and that of his family, as well as the fragmentation of India. Saleem’s identity is as diverse as that of his country, and in his narrative, he brings together the many faces of India. He tells of the colonization, the conflicts over religion and caste, the partition and independence, and manages to imbue his narrative with myth and magic as well as science and skepticism. I’m curious whether Rushdie will show that there is a place for both tradition and modernism, or if he will take the more realistic or pessimistic stand and have modernism wipe out “the old ways”. This ties in with the theme of east versus west and the problems of belonging (which are no doubt quite autobiographical) which are manifold. But I want to talk about these aspects next week.
I also enjoyed Rushdie’s use of an unreliable narrator (and with the topics that the novel concerns itself with, I am wondering whether a reliable narrator would be at all feasible. What do you think?), and the way he comments on storytelling. Saleem interrupts his narrative many times to foreshadow events, provide running commentary to his own narrative, or warn us that he will soon “take over” his story. Interestingly, he has a more immediate audience for his story than us readers, namely his companion Padma. Through Padma, Saleem (and Rushdie) anticipates readers’ reactions, such as impatience at the non-linearity of his narrative and irritation at interruptions when Saleem (the narrator as opposed to the character) makes an appearance:
Padma has started getting irritated whenever my narration becomes self-conscious, whenever, like an incompetent puppeteer, I reveal the hands holding the strings; but I simply must register a protest.” (70)
(I adore Rushdie for that semicolon!)
Padma also expresses the feeling of betrayal that readers often experience when the narrator turns out to be unreliable. This is most often the case with autobiographies (most memorably with Frey, A Million Little Pieces and Oprah), and we have to remember that in this context, Padma believes she is listening to Saleem’s autobiography. This fictional audience’s reaction to the narrative is one of the most interesting aspects of Midnight’s Children; Padma serves as an intermediary between narrator and reader, and I found myself constantly comparing her reactions and my own.
This is my first read-along in blogland, and I have to say it’s more difficult than usual to discuss a book without giving things away. I can’t really talk about Book 1 specifically without using spoilers, but the topics and themes from this first part are of course not limited to it. So I thought I would try to talk about one or two topics or themes in each post. This one would be narration and storytelling, I guess, and the next posts will probably focus on the binary of east and west and belonging, and (post-)colonialism and racism. Does that make sense? Is that something you’d like to read?
Also, you can still join the read-along, just pop over to Bibliojunkie and sign up!