Portal to the Pages

A quick glimpse into my thoughts on various fiction

Guest Post: Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie

on October 20, 2012

I am delighted to introduce a new element to my blog this week; the first of a number of guest posts that will feature in the coming weeks. Rest assured, I will still be writing my own reviews too but, in the pursuit of variety, some weeks will feature reviews from a different perspective than my own.

This week’s poster comes from a much more qualified point of view than my own; Sam Malone, currently studying for a Masters in American Literature. Sam and I have known each other for years but it is only recently that we have begun to exchange thoughts and opinions on books, as well as books themselves. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to share his review with you, and will conclude by simply stating that his review has convinced me to seek out Midight’s Children. I hope you enjoy Sam’s review, and please share your thoughts and comments below.

Cover of the book "Midnight's Children"

Midnight’s Children

Before I begin to write this review in earnest, I should write a small note as to its short-comings, of which all are my own. Primarily, please forgive this very short entry to such a fascinating blog as I feel to reveal any more than a mere sketch of the narrative would be to ruin a cornucopia of literary genius. Beyond this, if one finds them tedious, please excuse the more technical dimensions to this review because I simply could not resist adding them and finally please both forgive and excuse the slippage in register as I am not accustomed to such a form.

Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children is very simply a masterpiece, it not only won the Booker Prize in 1981 but went on to win the ‘Booker of Bookers’, the best original novel to win the prize on its 25th anniversary, in 1993 and ‘The Best of the Booker’, a title awarded to the best original novel chosen by the public on the Bookers 40th anniversary, in 2008. In my personal opinion, the only reason Rushdie has not won the Nobel Prize in Literature is due to his illustrious profile.

The novel traces the life of the protagonist and narrator, Saleem Sinai. Saleem is born at the exact moment of India’s Independence and as a result is ‘handcuffed to history, [his] destinies indissolubly chained to those of [his] country’. The children born in the short time before and after India gained Independence are gifted with magical powers, with those closest to midnight being the most powerful and Saleem is born exactly at midnight. The novel proceeds to follow his destiny through the trouble of post-colonial India, its glories and its struggles and the immense failures of the promises of those who guaranteed a better life for the proletariat upon its arrival into autonomous nationhood.

Rushdie writes like a humorous god surveying the follies of humanity but from the perspective of a man who never truly lost the neuroticism or narcissism of a pubescent teenager while simultaneously illustrating his position as one of the leading cultural theorists on the Indian subcontinent and the eclectic identities found there. The easy-flow and humour of this novel is what makes it appealing to all types of readers, from those reading snippets on a commute or lounging by the pool to those studying a higher degree.

Two (not so) brief notes on the style of this Goliath in the canon of post-colonial novels should be made. The first is its narrative mode – Magical Realism. This style of presentation was first seen in several paintings in the German Weimer Republic in 1925. Founded in a time when Germany was quite literally torn between two worlds, the old Imperial Germany had fallen with the Kaiser while the future of a country entering modernity, a time when uncertainty and fear was pervasive and the Nazis were beginning their ascent to power. This time of uncertainty revealed itself in a paradoxical style of painting, a clear, almost photographic style with hints of the magical and macabre. However, it has since been adopted by the great post-colonial novelists of our time, such as Gabriel García Márquez (One Hundred Years of Solitude) and Salman Rushdie (Midnight’s Children). As a technical approach, the style is explicitly an oxymoron, both real and magical. The combination of these two elements is a conscious mission on the part of the post-colonial writer to deconstruct the hegemonic structure of Western ‘realism’. The concept of realism, usually supported by a narrator, promulgates Western ideas of the East. By this I mean that realism allows for only one perspective from a supposedly omnipotent narrator and thereby proposes only one view of the East which subconsciously filters into the mind of the reader and begins the process of stereotyping and also invariably silences the East and its own ability to portray the truth about its countries, cultures and identities. Through magical realism, the mode of realism is deconstructed and demonstrated its own inherent reductionism. By showing a writing style so realistic that we believe we are with Saleem in his Geography class and then taking for granted the fact he can read minds and accept it as part of the novel, Rushdie breaks down the perspective of realism as not truly real but a slight-of-hand writing style.

The second, and final point of this review, concerns the use of the novel form. The novel as a form perpetually expresses its ability to do anything, its length allows for an almost unlimited space for the author to reveal his intentions and ideas, whole worlds are created in the novel and myriad genres inhabit its space. However, this claim is another thing Rushdie attacks as a post-colonial writer, for him the novel as a form cannot encompass the subcontinent with its extreme variety (revealed in Saleem’s perpetually mistakes on events), of both a cultural and socio-historical nature, a claim made by colonial writers as great as Rudyard Kipling. I hope this small step into the technicalities of this novel did not deter any prospective readers, it works on all readers and this is simply what I am particularly interested in. In a world where 50 Shades of Grey is a best seller it is a sin that this is Midnight’s Children is not a byword for the fantastic novel and does occupy a place in every bookshelf in every house.

In conclusion READ THIS NOVEL

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