Friday, 1 August 2014

Review: 'Shame' by Salman Rushdie

ShameI read this novel last year for university and it was the kind of book that absolutely frustrated me. There is something about Rushdie and the way he writes that is absolutely fascinating and also a bit off-putting for me. In Shame, those two qualities come together very well and create a story that is absolutely fascinating.
Omar Khayyam Shakil had three mothers who shared the symptoms of pregnancy, as they did everything else, inseparably. At their six breasts, Omar was warned against all feelings and nuances of shame. It was training which would prove useful when he left his mothers' fortress (via the dumb-waiter) to face his shameless future. As captivating fairy-tale, devastating political satire and exquisite, uproarious entertainment,Shame is a novel without rival.
Having to read a novel for school and/or university is always an interesting experience. Either you already know the book and love it and will defend it in class or you have never read it before, never heard of it before and now have to read all its 300 pages in two days. Shame was a novel that was in some ways forced upon me like that. I had tried to read Midnight Children by had been a bit too young to appreciate the sweeping family saga-theme which Indian novels do so well.  In Shame, Rushdie absolutely excels at following a family through the different generations, connecting families and people across. He understands that in families there is loyalty, betrayal and a lot of misunderstandings. He creates character who are not automatically likable yet understandable in how they behave.

Rushdie's writing style is in many ways unique. He writes Magical Realism infused with a very strong external narrator (Rushdie himself, naturally) and this creates a mix that is fascinating. His language is beautiful because he works with language quite explicitly. He writes in English about India despite being Indian and this creates very interesting parallels between the author and the main character Omar. By infusing his novel with all kinds of mythical elements, Rushdie lifts the novel from just one genre and puts it in multiple, if tht makes sense. Shame is both historical fiction, magical realism, family saga, fantasy and more. Although this mix does become confusing at times, it also creates some beautiful passages which really uplift this novel and made the reading experience an overall positive one. Almost all of these passages are related to his characters, who are fascinating. Whether they are women, men, Indian or Pakistani, Rushdie writes characters who feel intensely and through that make the reader feel as well.

However, I had a hard time enjoying this novel initially. Whether this was because of the pressure under which I read it or whether the novel simply wasn't my type, I don't know. But similarly to Midnight's Children, I found it hard to stick with this novel until I was at least halfway through. At that point I was really invested in the characters and felt that the story was going somewhere. I'm a big myth and legend fan, which means I also really enjoyed those aspects of the novel. Sometimes I felt that Rushdie lost himself in translation, which is ironic. His English is beautiful and he is more eloquent than many authors who currently have bestsellers. However, his attempts to translate his culture into English leads to a conflict of loyalty, I think. And it's definitely interesting to read!

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

Although I had my issues with this novel there are simply too many beautiful passages and moments in it to not give it this rating. Some of the images Rushdie conjures up through language stick with the reader for ages and are absolutely stunning and for me they really made the novel. The characters are all fascinating in their own way and the mysticism that infuses the novel means that in many ways it can transcend its problems. I would recommend this books to people who are already fans of Rushdie, but also to those who are exploring Magical Realism.

2 comments:

  1. I have yet to read any Rushdie, but this has made me more excited to pick one up. I'll have to bump him up the queue.

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  2. Really interesting review. As a university student, I totally understand where you're coming from. To be honest, I haven't read anything since I've been at this school that I've truly enjoyed. This doesn't sound like something I'd love either, but it definitely does have an interesting premise. Thanks for sharing!

    Tracy @ Cornerfolds

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