Salman Rushdie is one of the world's most important writers of politicised fiction. He is a self-proclaimed controversialist, capable of exciting radically divergent viewpoints; a novelist of extraordinary imaginative range and power; and an erudite, and often fearless, commentator upon the state of global politics today. This critical study examines the intellectual, biographical, literary and cultural contexts from which Rushdie's fiction springs, in order to help the reader make sense of the often complex debates that surround the life and work of this major contemporary figure. It also offers detailed critical readings of all Rushdie's novels, from Grimus through to Shalimar the Clown.
Any intellect which confines itself to mere structuralism is bound to rest trapped in its own webs. (Salman Rushdie, Grimus , 1975, G, 91)
Back then I was partial to science fiction novels. (Salman Rushdie, The Ground Beneath Her Feet , 1999, GBF, 205)
Scenarios borrowed from science fiction fantasy appear in several of Rushdie’s novels. Haroun and the Sea of Stories features a journey to a magical moon on an automaton bird, The Satanic Verses alludes to the genre self
Rushdie and his partner, Clarissa Luard, had drawn his attention to. The resultant novel, Grimus , did not win the competition – one of the judges, Brian Aldiss, had liked it, but the remaining two, Kingsley Amis and Arthur C. Clark, had not. Despite this setback, however, Calder, who was working as an editor for Gollancz, persuaded the company to publish the book anyway.
Readers familiar with Rushdie’s later works will not be surprised by some of the fictive preoccupations of Grimus . As in much of Rushdie’s subsequent writing, the novel is
Haroun and the Sea of Stories and The Moor’s Last Sigh
in the detached, simulacra fortress he builds for himself at Benengali – a location, created like Calf Island in Grimus without sufficient regard for material realities, ‘to which people came to forget themselves – or, more accurately, to lose themselves in themselves, to live in a kind of dream’ (MLS, 402).
The different fates of the works of each artist give an indication of Rushdie’s views concerning the social and political viability of each aesthetic mode. Aurora’s fondness for contentious satirical statements leads her headfirst
reactionary (‘opposition man’) P. S. Moonshy in Grimus (1975) and the defeated and cowardly Qasim the Red in Midnight’s Children . By far the most effective comic passage at the expense of Marxism, however, occurs in The Moor’s Last Sigh (1995), when Camoens da Gama, hearing that Moscow have organised a troupe of ‘Counterfeit Lenins’ (MLS, 29) for propaganda purposes, has the idea of assembling a body of performing Lenins suited to the Indian context. After much wheedling, he persuades the authorities in Moscow to send over one of their ‘fake Ulyanovs’ (MLS, 28) to
, 74). The documentary was never made, but it might be argued that the surrealist obsession with the threat to coherent identity brought about by doubling, splitting and twinning is one that Buñuel has bequeathed many of Rushdie’s works, from the grotesque Flapping Eagle/Grimus synthesis of his first novel to the shadowy twin selves of The Ground Beneath Her Feet and Fury . Such images, of course, have sources other than film – in the doppel-gängers of Gothic literature for instance – but the peculiar ease with which film, notably surrealist film, allows for an
because his political location changes. The subject of the variability of Rushdie’s politics is treated by Kathryn Hume in a 1995 article on his work. 46 Here Hume argues that, after the publication of Shame , there is a marked shift in Rushdie’s approach to what she regards as the key issue in his writing – how the ‘decentred, culturally hybridised’ individual can act in politically and ethically significant ways. 47 In his first three novels, Grimus, Midnight’s Children and Shame , she suggests, ‘Rushdie proposes only one rather tentative answer to the