Midnight's Children

by Salman Rushdie

Where to begin? (Sorry this one takes so long folks.) Were this book not on the list of my "required" reading, as it were, I would not make it past the first chapter or two. So let me reiterate: Salman Rushdie is a writer's writer, which is to say, this book is not easy on the reader.

Midnight's Children is the long, imaginative, twisted tale of the entire life (including progenitors & descendants) of a person born at the exact instant of India's independence, an event which somehow imbues this person, and others like him, with magical powers. This sizeable novel is structured as a kind of frame story, in which the protagonist's narrative in present time connects all the tales of his past, as he recounts them to a single listener, a character in the book. The net effect is that you end up reading a story about storytelling, reminiscent (in more ways than one) of Arabian Nights.

I think Rushdie has also taken a cue from Gabriel Garcia Marquez in his fanciful, nightmarish/dreamlike, not-to-be-believed plot elements, vivid realization, and gargantuan list of characters. There is even a new character introduced in the last pages of the book! Classic Bitch sure could have benefited from a family tree drawn on an inside cover somewhere! (And to prove that I don't just suggest that because I'm a philistine, there IS a diagrammed family tree in the opening pages of One Hundred Years of Solitude.) Care for another literary comparison? Salman Rushdie could give Victor Hugo a serious run for his money in that Guinness Book world record for the longest sentence ever written. Rushdie turns out more than a few snaking, underpunctuated behemoths that run for pages here. (Dearth of punctuation is a Rushdie trademark, especially in lists of three—don't expect to find the Oxford comma...don't expect to find ANY commas!) In fact, the book ends in a diarrheal spew of a clumsy recap of the entire book itself (thanks, we already read it once). The net effect is something like eating chana masala while listening to Billy Joel's We Didn't Start the Fire, & then (of course) getting sick—from the music, not the food.

Midnight's Children is like A Passage to India on mescaline. There are moments when even the narrator's single listener is confused IN the story, BY the story. Where do you think that leaves the reader?? The frame is cumbersome, and within the context of this style of narration, there are periods in the book where I get the distinct feeling that the author is stepping even further outside the frame to answer editorial queries. (Yeah... keep that to the margins & don't forget to excise it prior to publication.) The book is divided into three parts. The former and latter are obtuse; the penultimate is probably the most enjoyable, the meat of the story.

I will never read another Salman Rushdie novel again.