However you feel about Salman Rushdie, it is difficult to deny that the blurb to his latest work makes it sound more than a little intriguing. Whether you’re in the camp that agree with the sleeve’s assertion that he is one of the greatest writers of our time, or you think he hasn’t written anything of worth since Midnight’s Children, or even if you think that wasn’t all it was made out to be, there would have to be something to draw you in on the back cover of this latest work.
The premise will appeal to fans of speculative fiction due to the fact that it takes place in a near future New York devastated by a spectacular storm. It’ll strike a chord with fans of sci-fi and the supernatural because of the curious creatures that creep into the city after the storm, offsetting a series of ‘strangenesses’ that wreak havoc on the world. It’ll get attention from fans of fairy tales because of the presence of the Jinn, or genies as they are otherwise known. And for fans of historical fiction, particularly of the military genre, the convoluted blurb on the back cover promises that this will be an ‘epic war story’ and ‘a masterpiece about the age-old conflicts that remain in today’s world’. There can’t be many works of fiction that have mass appeal on quite this scale.
What a shame, then, that Rushdie’s latest work fails to meet any of these expectations. Although it may start promisingly, with the intriguing emergence of the strangenesses, with a gardener that begins to levitate, a baby that brings boils out on the skin of every corrupt person it passes, and a graphic novel character coming to life, it soon descends into what feels like barely managed chaos, too much reaching for meaning that makes story almost irrelevant.
And that is the main problem here. Rushdie has long been a fan of allegory and almost each of his works has a target for its satire. Here, it feels like there are far too many targets. He has a go at the war on terror at the same time as he has a go at the terrorists. He derides the technological age, but also makes it clear that it is the mistakes of our past that have led to our problems. He takes his usual digs at religion, but without the same focus and success as in previous works. And he seems to throw a few thousand other gripes into the mix at the same time. Even for someone who agrees with most of what he targets, it felt hard to get a handle on how all of this added together to make a readable book.
Any Cop?: What we end up with here is a novel that always seems to be reaching a bit too far. Famed for his political and religious stances in his works of fiction, it seems like Rushdie now finds that infinitely more important than telling a good story. So what we have here is a weird otherworldly work of fiction which obscures its true meaning under layer and layer of ineffective satire. Read Midnight’s Children instead.