Review of “The Satanic Verses” by Salman Rushdie

I recently heard the author talking on the radio and it piqued my curiosity, so I wanted to find out what he wrote that has people still trying to kill him after thirty years (he was recently stabbed in London). I figured it must be incredibly derogatory of Islam. I was disappointed.

This is a rather long novel (591 pages) that falls squarely in the literary fiction genre. It reads more like poetry than prose at times, and the author uses every literary trick to make it interesting to read — as a stimulating activity rather than a story with a plot and all that nonsense. His descriptions of even characters conveys who they are without them saying a word. You could call it hyper-metaphorical.

There is a core story here, about two men with similar backgrounds (Indian actors) who meet accidentally and become entwined (to say the least!) as they reconcile their pasts with the present. This story is less than half the book. Rushdie livened the story up with a fantasy twist that hides multiple levels of allegory (east-west, young-old, good-evil, life-death, etc), adding several separate threads that are more like independent stories; all of these pieces are tied together by one of the protagonists (or is he the antagonist?). The author leaves that question unanswered.

There is no attempt made to reconcile any of the fantasy with reality, so the reader can write their own backstory; I’m certain that has been done many times by literary critics, perhaps even Rushdie himself. Personally, I think he just wrote it and let the chips fall.

It’s difficult to critique the grammar and punctuation because the characters often speak in Indian/English slang (I had to look up so many words that it became like translating from Spanish). Also, to keep the pace going, dialogue is mostly within paragraphs and sometimes not even using quotation marks. Thoughts and words are intermixed in an assault of ideas and actions that conveys more than simple conversation. Truly masterful.

I don’t read novels like this in general because they don’t make any sense to me. There is no cause-and-effect, not even speculation about what’s going on — never mind the appearance of the narrator as some kind of deity who doesn’t reappear. Pieces of literary construction are thrown together haphazardly and the result is a mess; however, it is a rather pleasant morass of words and ideas if the reader doesn’t try to read between the lines.

To address my original reason for reading this novel, I think the people who want to kill Rushdie read between the lines and saw something that shocked them so badly that he became one of the protagonists (or are they both antagonists?) to them. To those who believe in magic and superstition, this book can mean almost anything.

I’ve tried not to fall into that wormhole in this review because …

I’m just a reading monkey.

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