Sunday, 9 January 2011

Fury is Five

Fury - Salman Rushdie
This started like a modern updating of Saul Bellow's Herzog, the academic in late middle age unable to stay with any woman and hurling his incohate fury at the world. It ended as a mixture between Myth, The Mouse that Roared and a theatrical farce and more besides - science fiction, child abuse, the media world, the internet...
However it suffers greatly by comparison with Bellow and is an often awkward and very uneven work. Much of the dialogue and inner thoughts seem mere paraphrases of sunday magazine speculation and the tone is uneven and unconvincing. (I did enjoy the frisson where he talks of the power having moved from cultural commentators in the seventies to advertising executives in the nineties, the opposite journey to Rushdie.) There are also constant references to Swift, Kafka, Yeats and any number of cultural touchstones.

The 'hero' is a riff on Rushdie himself, famous for his programmes on philosophy featuring dolls. After a 'blasphemy' incident he loses control of these dolls one of whom becomes a major commercial success but in an incarnation that he comes to hate.
Although much of the novel is set on a rich cultural faultline the characters (even the dolls) don't convince and it is like a series of episodes arising from the half digested entrails of the previous episode. And there are really awkward phrases and paragraphs and cultural references that seem ever so slightly off (almost as if the character has been in hiding - sorry Salman, couldn't resist it).
An interesting mess hiding the germ of a much better novel.

ps. An aside: I looked up a couple of reviews both of which talked of an anti-semitic plumber. In fact the plumber is a Jew who survives WW2 as a plumber on a u-boat and takes offence when the 'hero' Solanka suggests his life story would make an interesting movie and suggests the name Jewboat. The plumber, who's surname Schlink leads to his nickname 'Kitchen Schlink' takes offence at this. One wonders which reviewer was copying the other. In fact a google search shows quite a few people labouring under this misapprehension.

The plumber comes back at the books end to say that the suggested film is going to be made - an echo of the 'gift' in Saul Bellow's Humboldt's Gift, perhaps.

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