Something of a change of pace. This one was a book club book, for our theme “literary authors doing SFF”. I nominated it, so entirely my fault, but I’m not certain in hindsight I’d have picked it for that theme. It’s magical realism, and I’m not sure I think that’s SFF. I also don’t think I’d have picked it had wikipedia not lied to me about the length of the book (by just under 200 pages!), so regrets all round on that score. But I don’t regret that this spurred me onto reading it – I’ve been meaning to get round to some Rushdie for a good long while, what with him having won the Booker of Bookers and all, apparently some people think he’s good. And he also just feels like one of those authors I ought to have read. Which is sometimes a misleading impulse, because it’s often not really about how much I’m going to like the experience of reading a book, so much as wanting to be able to say I have read it. But here… nah, I’m cool with it. It’s not a fun book or an easy one, but I’m glad of the experience of reading it.
My primary experience of it, though, is that it’s hard work. It’s not a book that lets you have anything easily. You have to work at it, work at reading it, work at paying attention, and hope that the pay-off for doing so is worth it. For me, it was. But I can see how that balance would tip the other way for a lot of people, especially as there’s a lot in there that’s challenging on other levels too. It’s not a book trying to be liked universally, or do things the nice or easy way. It’s deeply critical of various things (including Indira Gandhi in ways that maybe… could have been less… strong), and is using the story heavily towards that critique.
But sometimes I enjoy having to work for my literature. Sometimes it is worth it. And I definitely found, once I’d got into it, that the difficult prose wasn’t a necessary obstacle to clamber over to get to the good stuff – it was part of the good stuff. It worked, and it contributed to what was worthwhile about the book. In the end, I can’t imagine having enjoyed it anywhere near as much were the prose less than what it is. Even across a LOT of pages. And it is a long, long, chonky-ass book.
It’s also definitely not for you if you want a pacy, plot driven romp. The protagonist isn’t even born until about page 300.
But if you like weird prose? If you like meandering ideas that somehow coalesce into something interesting and meaningful without you entirely noticing, and characters all described as overblown caricatures yet somehow resolving into coherent and necessary parts of the story? Absolutely. It’s definitely literature on hard mode, but in the best way.