I like cross stitch as much as books but it’s easier to stitch about anywhere (particularly in front of a TV screen) than to read. So I don’t devote myself to this leisure time as much as I’d like.
Nevertheless, I recently bought 4 new books.
I’ve never read any Salman Rushdie book, even though I’ve heard, like mosts people, the controversy about his « Satanic Verses ». And in this disturbed times, I’d like to have my own opinion about this book…
And as it may be a difficult book to read, I’ve also picked another one which is supposed to be less controversial: « The ground beneath her feet ».
The ground shifts repeatedly beneath the reader’s feet during the course of Salman Rushdie’s sixth novel, a riff on the Orpheus and Eurydice myth set in the high-octane world of rock & roll. Readers get their first clues early on that the universe Rushdie is creating here is not quite the one we know: Jesse Aron Parker, for example, wrote « Heartbreak Hotel »; Carly Simon and Guinevere Garfunkel sang « Bridge over Troubled Water »; and Shirley Jones and Gordon McRae starred in « South Pacific. » And as the novel progresses, Rushdie adds unmistakable elements of science fiction to his already patented magical realism, with occasionally uneven results.
Rushdie’s cunning musician is Ormus Cana, the Bombay-born founder of the most popular group in the world. Ormus’s Eurydice (and lead singer) is Vina Apsara, the daughter of a Greek American woman and an Indian father who abandoned the family. What these two share, besides amazing musical talent, is a decidedly twisted family life: Ormus’s twin brother died at birth and communicates to him from « the other side »; his older brothers, also twins, are, respectively, brain-damaged and a serial killer. Vina, on the other hand, grew up in rural West Virginia where she returned home one day to find her stepfather and sisters shot to death and her mother hanging from a rafter in the barn. No wonder these two believe they were made for each other.
Narrated by Rai Merchant, a childhood friend of both Vina and Ormus, The Ground Beneath Her Feet begins with a terrible earthquake in 1989 that swallows Vina whole, then moves back in time to chronicle the tangled histories of all the main characters and a host of minor ones as well. Rushdie’s canvas is huge, stretching from India to London to New York and beyond–and there’s plenty of room for him to punctuate this epic tale with pointed commentary on his own situation: Muslim-born Rai, for example, remarks that « my parents gave me the gift of irreligion, of growing up without bothering to ask people what gods they held dear…. You may argue that the gift was a poisoned chalice, but even if so, that’s a cup from which I’d happily drink again. » Despite earthquakes, heartbreaks, and a rip in the time-space continuum, The Ground Beneath Her Feet may be the most optimistic, accessible novel Rushdie has yet written.
Then, James Joyce’s « Dubliners ».
Although all set in Dublin and focused upon the themes of death, disease and paralysis throughout, Dubliners is a collection of short stories only interconnected by symbols and moods. They are not as bleak as their themes suggest, at least not in all cases, and are often heartening in their subtle evocations of experience common to all. The collection was published after numerous hassles from publishers and almost a decade after they were written, in 1914. It is hard now to see the innovation in Joyce’s construction of stories that are not based on the contrived set-ups familiar from nineteenth century short stories (Maupassant, Poe etc) and the way in which he avoids precise beginnings or ends to present instead an ‘epiphany’ or spiritual awakening. The Dublin portrayed in the short stories is usually grimy and full of cynical and indecent individuals. From this gleam a few thinking individuals who the author seems to side with. They are generally the sensitive or young ones, and the adult world is often seen as foolish, futile and unpleasant (see « The Boarding House » or « Ivy Day in the Committee Room »). These stories are easily Joyce’s most accessible works, and their vision of a composite life created around a chronological sampling of Dublin lives from youth to age is still both amusing, moving and serious.
And Georges Orwell’s « Animal farm ».
George Orwell’s classic satire of the Russian Revolution is an intimate part of our contemporary culture. It is the account of the bold struggle, initiated by the animals, that transforms Mr. Jones’s Manor Farm into Animal Farm–a wholly democratic society built on the credo that All Animals Are Created Equal. Out of their cleverness, the pigs Napoleon, Squealer, and Snowball emerge as leaders of the new community in a subtle evolution that proves disastrous. The climax is the brutal betrayal of the faithful horse Boxer, when totalitarian rule is reestablished with the bloodstained postscript to the founding slogan: But some Animals Are More Equal Than Others. . . .