I am into the second half of Salman Rushdie's novel Midnight's Children and I confess that I am feeling a growing sense of disappointment. All of Rushdie's hyperkinetic prose, his magical realism, his nonstop foreshadowing and foregrounding of metaphor are not adding up to anything particularly interesting beyond each moment. This is a novel of anecdotes and episodes that isn't going anywhere that I can see. Rushdie explains constantly as he goes along that the "midnight's children" are allegories of India, that India today plays out her historical myths unconsciously but not quite unwillingly, and the reader is battered over the head by the author's themes from the first page and this battering never lets up. So it wearies me, does this book. I keep reading because I have hopes that Rushdie is going somewhere, not just illustrating the same ideas for 600 pages, that there is some reason for all the disconnected action aside from allegorizing Indian history. Because the allegorization of history, Mr Rushdie, is not enough to carry a novel.
None of which was quite what I meant to say. What I really mean--what my primary objection seems to be--is that when Rushdie develops his stories and characters, he drops hints all along the way that Something Interesting Is Coming and when the Interesting Moment arrives, it is always small and anticlimatic. I don't think Rushdie realizes that his character and story arcs are unsatisfying. "That's it?" I find myself asking. "That's all that happens? That's your idea of a significant action, Mr Rushdie?" I harrumph too often reading this book. Build, build, build and then...so what? There is no weight to any of Rushdie's outcomes. It's all one, unchanging, with no contrast nor movement beyond the surface. Nothing means anything. None of the characters care about anything (though often they whine at high volume), including their own deaths. Maybe that's Rushdie's point, but I doubt it. It's like watching a battle to the death among circus clowns: a lot of blood and grotesque, fantastic violence, but there's no emotional investment because, you know, all the participants are clowns. I don't think, I guess, that Rushdie cares about any of the alleged humans in his book.
Last night I realized that the primary literary touchstone of Midnight's Children is Gunter Grass, particularly the Danzig trilogy, particularly Dog Years though Rushdie's protagonist/narrator is almost as annoying as Oskar Matzerath in Tin Drum but not quite. Rushdie clearly owes Grass a huge debt, though I begin to think that Rushdie was trying hard to outdo Grass. Alas, Rushdie's over-the-top pyrotechnic prose is more distracting than anything else. Midnight's Children bothers me, I just now realized, because on the whole it lacks beauty. The prose is wild and sometimes amazing but it's ugly, jarring, unbeautiful prose. It lacks poetry and poise, it never settles into any patterns and seems uncomfortable with itself and entirely self-conscious. So I don't know about this book. I will finish reading it because there are some interesting things going on, but I will wish it was about 200 pages shorter and I don't see myself reading anything else by Rushdie for quite some time. Yes, I know: Booker of Bookers and all of that. But still and all.
After this, I'm going to read some Nabokov and then another Shakespeare play. Then, I think, it will be Sebald and then Chekhov again and then, like as not, another assault on Brothers Karamazov.