September 10, 2005 12:02 pm
I picked up Shalimar the Clown from the library last weekend, and spent the next few days fervently poring over it.
So how was it? Well, I didn’t enjoy it as much as Shame — my favorite Rushdie novel — or Midnight’s Children. But that’s not saying very much. Shalimar didn’t make the Booker shortlist, so it’s safely out of the Booker of Bookers contention. But it’s an excellent read. Definitely many steps above the lame duck Fury.
So I was a little surprised when Michiko savaged the novel in her NY Times review. But then again, maybe I shouldn’t have been — who does she spare anyway?
[Shalimar the Clown] lacks the fecund narrative magic, ebullient language and intimate historical emotion found in “Midnight’s Children” and “The Moor’s Last Sigh.”
Worse, “Shalimar the Clown” is hobbled by Mr. Rushdie’s determination to graft huge political and cultural issues onto a flimsy soap opera plot - a narrative strategy that not only overwhelms his characters’ stories but also trivializes the larger issues the author is trying to address.
The main problem with this novel, however, is its title character, Shalimar […] who emerges as a thoroughly implausible, cartoonish figure: an ardent lover turned murderous avenger, a clownish performer transformed into a cold-eyed terrorist. Whereas the other characters’ motives are complex and conflicted, Shalimar is depicted in diagrammatic, black-and-white terms.
Actually, I agree with the last part. Shalimar, the title characer, has a definite wooden quality. He doesn’t appear to say, think, or feel much of anything, leaving the reader wondering if he knows the clown at all. But is this intentional on Rushdie’s part? Is Shalimar Kashmir — spoken about by all, understood by none?
More here, here and here.