Review: Shalimar the Clown, Salman Rushdie

My lovely Legal Sister bought me Shalimar the Clown at a book sale last year and gave it to me when she GRADUATED SISTER GRADUATED WOOOO YAY FOR SISTERS. Legal Sister reports that the family has a policy whereby we all give each other books we got at book sales and do not have to pay each other back. I am not sure this is a real policy, but I’m delighted to acknowledge it as if it were. Shalimar the Clown is one of the two fiction books by Salman Rushdie I had yet to read (not counting Grimus and Shame, which I started and loathed and never finished; and not counting Luka and the Fire of Life, which I’m not sure about because I didn’t love Haroun and the Sea of Stories), the other being The Moor’s Last Sigh, so I was glad to have the chance to read it. I suspected I would like it okay but not as much as The Moor’s Last Sigh. But we’ll see.

Teresa and I were talking last week about Salman Rushdie and how his gifts as a writer do not necessarily run to constructing coherent plotlines. He is a genius with wordplay, and he makes magical realism, a genre I customarily detest, startlingly unloathsome. He has some set pieces that are marvelously executed, nicely set up, elegantly internally paralleled, and tidily finished. But if you are after a coherent narrative, Salman Rushdie is perhaps not your guy. Teresa said that this was the reason she liked Shalimar the Clown best of Rushdie’s books, because it is a well-ordered, narrative with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Digressive it certainly is, or it wouldn’t be Rushdie, but it’s all building up to something, and once it builds up to the thing, there’s a climax, a denouement, and then the book ends. I can absolutely see Teresa’s point on this.

However, Shalimar the Clown didn’t do it for me. The plot is basically that there is this American diplomat with an illegitimate daughter called India, and he gets brutally murdered by his driver, a Kashmiri fellow called Shalimar the Clown. Subsequently the narrative flashes back to Shalimar’s childhood in Kashmir and the love of his life, a girl named Boonyi, and all the terrible things that happened to Boonyi and Shalimar and Kashmir, and how it’s all led up to this brutal murder by Shalimar of the American diplomat. In Rushdie-relative rather than absolute terms, this plot is tight as a drum.

But, eh, I don’t know. It all felt heavy-handed.

(I just paused from writing this post because my friend sent me a link to the film trailer for Breaking Dawn. Now I feel silly calling anything else in the entire world heavy-handed. But on I bloodily stagger.)

As I was saying, it all felt heavy-handed. There were parts of the book that talked about the bloodshed in Kashmir, and when you’re talking about something as horrible as what Rushdie’s talking about,  you really don’t need to sell it much because the impact on the readers happens just from the events. The writing doesn’t need to fall all over itself reminding you how terrible and senseless it is. I was also bothered (I am increasingly bothered by this in Salman Rushdie’s books!) by the genders of the characters. As is often the case with Rushdie, the momentum in the book (broadly speaking) tends to belong to the male characters, while the women are more reactive than active.

(Actually, that last complaint could be about the Twilight series too. HA HA, Salman Rushdie would probably not appreciate this comparison. Sorry, Salman Rushdie. You are far cleverer than Stephenie Meyer.)

So that’s it for Shalimar the Clown. I’m going to go watch the trailer for Harry Potter again now. Have I mentioned I miss Harry Potter?

Who else read it:

Asylum
Literarily Speaking
Lotus Reads
Books, Time, and Silence
Largehearted Boy

Tell me if I missed yours!