Friday, 8 September 2017

Review: 'The Golden House' by Salman Rushdie

I have had a rough time with Rushdie in the past. I had heard about the controversy around The Satanic Verses but didn't know enough about it to truly register it. And then at university I was made to read Shame and as we all know, being made to read something significantly diminishes the chance you'll enjoy it. So Rushdie and I parted ways for a long time after that, until I saw The Golden House. And my interest was peaked again. Thanks to Random House and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 05/09/2017
Publisher: Random House
A modern American epic set against the panorama of contemporary politics and culture—a hurtling, page-turning mystery that is equal parts The Great Gatsby and The Bonfire of the Vanities  
On the day of Barack Obama’s inauguration, an enigmatic billionaire from foreign shores takes up residence in the architectural jewel of “the Gardens,” a cloistered community in New York’s Greenwich Village. The neighborhood is a bubble within a bubble, and the residents are immediately intrigued by the eccentric newcomer and his family. 
Along with his improbable name, untraceable accent, and unmistakable whiff of danger, Nero Golden has brought along his three adult sons: agoraphobic, alcoholic Petya, whose rambling soliloquies are the curse of a tortured mind; Apu, the flamboyant artist, sexually and spiritually omnivorous, famous on twenty blocks; and D, at twenty-two the baby of the family, harboring an explosive secret even from himself. There is no mother, no wife; at least not until Vasilisa, a sleek Russian expat, snags the septuagenarian Nero, becoming the queen to his king—a queen in want of an heir.  
Our guide to the Goldens’ world is their neighbor René, an ambitious young filmmaker. As research for a movie about the Goldens, he ingratiates himself into their household. Seduced by their mystique, he is inevitably implicated in their quarrels, their infidelities, and, indeed, their crimes. Meanwhile, like a bad joke, a certain comic-book villain embarks upon a crass presidential run that turns New York upside-down.  
Set against the strange and exuberant backdrop of current American culture and politics, The Golden House also marks Salman Rushdie’s triumphant and exciting return to realism. The result is a modern epic of love and terrorism, loss and reinvention—a powerful, timely story told with the daring and panache that make Salman Rushdie the standard-bearer of our dark new age.
The Golden House is a truly modern book, a book that delights in the 21st century.  Rushdie's characters live in the New York of now and throughout the novel he infuses the narrative with references to 21st century politics, pop culture and more. There is art, there is music, literature, the 2016 election, movies, clowns in the streets, so much makes an appearance in The Golden House that it is almost overwhelming. I personally adore social commentary in novels. I feel like it is one of literature's duties to reflect upon its own time and to draw lessons from it for readers. Think of how Les Miserables or War and Peace comment on Russia and France, and how both are obsessed with Napoleon. These novels told me more about the influence of Napoleon than my history teacher ever did. And so when I find a novel like The Golden House, which plunges itself headfirst into one of the oddest few decades to date, I can't help but love how topical and relevant is it. Will it feel dated in a decade or so? Perhaps, but it will always be a product of its time, a kind of ode to the optimism of the early years and the downward spiral of the latter years.

Despite having an initial dislike for Shame, I have come to majorly appreciate it for the way in which Rushdie consistently manages to weave together myth and fact, legend and reality. His take on Magical Realism consistently astounds me \and he does so again in The Golden House. On the one hand it is deeply rooted in the modern world, and yet it is also magical. Baba Yaga personified makes an appearance, there is a magic childhood, and myth and legend suffuses everything. What perhaps topped my fascination with the Magical Realism in the novel, is how incredibly meta this book is. At the heart is a young filmmaker who dubs himself René, leaving it up to the reader to guess whether that is his real name. In a meandering style he tells us of the Golden patriarch and his three sons as they move into his neighbourhood in New York. He doesn't just tell us their story, René shapes it into an idea for a movie. He considers how to best present the different people, what symbolism lies in their lives and how exactly this story will even end. As he uncovers more and more about the Goldens he gets more and more drawn into their lives, until he is a key part of the story he is crafting. This set-up is mind boggling, in ways, as the readder is constantly questioning what exactly is the truth, but then truth is one of the themes at the heart of the novel. The Golden House is a glorious puzzle that is well worth undertaking despite its countless pieces.

Rushdie really doesn't need me praising his writing style, and yet I will do so anyway. The Golden House is beautiful, how it blends together past and present, how its sentences run on and on and yet never lose their strength, how it doesn't forget itself in the middle of its social commentary. The style of this novel is flamboyant and effluent, and yet concise and meaningful at the same time. It always feel as if each of these words is supposed to be there, is necessary. Much like a Bach piece, take on word out and the whole thing may collapse. The Golden House is the kind of novel that comments upon the human condition, and that sounds more frightful than it is. With flawed yet human characters, plot lines that are too ridiculous not to be true, Rushdie poses the questions that lie at the core of our minds. What is good and evil? Can one be both at the same time? And what does that say about us?

I give this novel...

5 Universes!

I absolutely loved The Golden House and devoured it way quicker than I expected. This novel has something of everything and paints a truly human picture of the last few decades. Are any of the characters likeable? I couldn't really say, but their story will teach you something about yourself. I'd recommend this to anyone interested in Literary Fiction.

I also have a great guest post up, by Lisa K., about The Satanic Verses in celebration of the release of The Golden House.

No comments:

Post a Comment