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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Midnight's Children

I was so excited to read Midnight's Children ... my first Salman Rushdie book, an intriguing plot mixing history and magical/mystical elements, set in a time/place I find fascinating. Yeah, not so much.

First, a bit about the book itself. The main character, Saleem, is born at the stroke of midnight at the same time that India declare it's independence from Britain. This lucky accident of birth endows Saleem with an unusual talent, as it does for the other 500+ children born on this special day. The real story here is the way that the history and development of India parallels that of Saleem (and the other Midnight's Children).

Alas ... You know what happens when you put a bunch of necklaces (or even strings) in a small place for a while, right? When you go to pull one out, all of them come along, tangled into a ball that seems impossible to separate. As you work at disentangling the one strand you want, you end up having to work on other strands as well ... you can't pull out the one you want without separating other strands to get there.

That's how I feel about this book. At the beginning of each chapter, I'd see several strands. By the middle of the chapter, the strands would be lost in a tangle of details and additional information. At the end of the chapter I (hopefully) pulled out the same strands that I began with, progressing further into the story.

The grammar drove me crazy as well. I know it's a style thing, and maybe you'd like it, but the lack of commas drove me nuts. Whenever there was a list of things/descriptions/whatever in a sentence, there would always be three things and they would not be separated by commas. When I'm reading I use commas (and other punctuation) to understand the story quickly and easily; here I had to reread sentences throughout the book because on my first reading the (lack of) punctuation altered my interpretation of what the author was actually trying to say.

Another thing that drove me nuts? Saleem begins the story of his life 31 years before he is born! He explains this by saying "to understand me you'll have to swallow a world," meaning that to truly understand one person's life you need to understand every person/place/thing that influenced that one person's development. That's all well and good, but it took literally half of the book to arrive at his birth. Of course, that balances nicely with the fact that the second half of the book contains Saleem's life up to age 31 (31 years before birth, 31 one years after birth). Since balance and parallels are big themes in the book, this is obviously a conscious choice by the author, but regardless of the reason, it drove me nuts.

And what's with all the name changing? Just about all the characters changed their names at some point in the story. It was hard enough keeping track of the large number of characters, but then they changed their names and created even more confusion for me. The characters who I really liked as children or young adults all changed their names and became (to me) unlikeable adults. There were NO characters in this book that I liked in the end. [Oh, sorry, there was one who I continued to like whenever she appeared ... but the author killed her off.]

This book requires concentration and effort to work through. In and of itself, that's not a bad thing. But as I told hubby about halfway through, "this book makes me feel stupid!" I feel like I should be more literary to understand it. I mean, it's gotten rave reviews and awards in the book world ... but I just don't get it. What exactly is so amazing about this book?!

I decided to read Midnight's Children for the Irresistible Review Challenge because of this review. I can't tell you how disappointed I am, or how leery to read another Rushdie book (which is sad, because I have his newest book, The Enchantress of Florence, on the shelf just waiting to be read).

I know that some of you out there love this one ... please tell me why! What am I missing here?

And if you've reviewed this one too, I'm happy to post the link here. I'd be interested to see if you agree or disagree with my opinions ...

Things Mean A Lot totally disagrees with me and has some excellent reasons for doing so


Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

I'm sorry this one didn't do it for you. I read it for a postcolonialism course a few years ago, so we had several weeks of discussion on the book and Rushdie's syle which helped a lot. I love love love the book, but it is difficult and it does take a lot of serious thought and teasing (for those reason I think it would be great for a bookclub). Our bookclub recently read The God of Small Things which is very reminiscient of this book and while everyone didn't love it we had great discussion over it.

I definitely agree that this one isn't for everyone, though.

Ana S. said...

I'm sorry that you didn't enjoy this one, Heather. I read it a couple of months ago, and like Trish I loved it, but I don't think you're missing anything. It's just that this is the kind of book that will definitely not work for everyone. I agree that it demands a lot of patience and concentration, but after a while the story managed to hook me in. Here's the link to my post.

Jill said...

I'm sorry you didn't like this one. I read Satanic Verses, and it did turn into quite a chore by the end. I feel the need to identify with (and hopefully like) at least one character in a book, so I understand how you feel. If I don't, then the book had better be really interesting or unusual to keep me reading!

Anonymous said...

My experience with Midnight's Children was similar to yours. It just didn't quite gel for me, and I'm still not entirely sure why. But you might not want to write Rushdie off completely. I liked Shalimar the Clown and The Enchantress of Florence quite a bit. They both required concentration, but in both cases the story held my interest so that it wasn't hard to stay focused.

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

Trish - I think if I read this as part of a class, I'd have enjoyed it more. It BEGS to be dissected and discussed!

Nymeth - Thanks for the link. Excellent review, btw.

Darla D - I agree, the characters need to capture me in some way ... these just didn't do it. The ones I DID like all turned out different (and unlikable to me) in the end.

Teresa - Thanks for the encouragement ... the Florence book really does look good and I didn't want to write it off completely!

drxray said...

This is only one of two books that I was unable to finish. I gave up on this one about 2/3 of the way through. the other book was "The Name of The Rose" by Umberto Eco.

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

drxray - I had a really hard time making it through myself. Thanks for coming by and for commenting!

Rahul said...

I am so much looking forward to this movie. Hope it is as good as the review. Though too early to say this and that even without watching it, In my view this might be an Oscar winning movie :)

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