am 27. September 2006
Reasding Rushdie's books provide for some of the best reading experiences you can get with a living author. Some of them swallow you like a maelstrom and spit you out hours weeks or months later with that certain dizzyness that is typical for the end of an out-of-the-world experience. You were gone - now you're back, and have to face dull reality again. If his style appeals to you, reading Rushdie is the best use of your time conceivable. Apart from reading Philip Roth, of course.
While "Midnight's Children" and "Satanic Verses" did this to me quite easily (also the "Moore's Last Sigh", even though today I do not have a clue what it was about - complete amnesia), there are others that are more challenging. "The Ground Benaeth her Feet", "Fury", but also "Grimus" did not grab my attention in the same wild manner - and neither did "Shalimar the Clown". It was, I have to admit, a bit of hard work to get through. That was partly owing to my lack of concentration to begin with, but it had, I think, also to do with a lack of focus in the book. It was never really clear to me what it was about: the ruthlessness of diplomacy and what collateral damage it does on people's lives? That would be the best one, actually. But maybe it was "only" about the way young Muslims become attracted by and engulfed in terrorism? A bit… simple? Or the ever-popular power of love, of everlasting love, of everlasting hate, and how both guide humans like missiles to destruction? Yes, but not in the book. Witchcraft and potatoe curses and snake curses? Yes, that you can find, but it keeps dimishing in the background of the story about…. Hmmm…
Anyway: there is a certain dymanic in the book, which reappears whenever Shalimar the Clown reappears. It is clearly a book about him, and his victims and lovers and parents and teachers are not as interesting as he is. Even the Ambassador, the character that gets most lines in the 400-page volume, I guess, diminishes against the very simple way forward which Shalimar has chosen as his aim in life. Forward towards destroying his enemy. There is only one, but in order to complete the deed, garnishment is required in the same way as some veggies are lined up around a nice steak. They don't matter, but they make it a meal.
What I find most interesting about the character of Shalimar is that, while he is a killer, that has nothing to do with him killing that one enemy he really wants to kill. The other thing is his job, the final deed is his detination. After this, he can become one of these half-real half-magic creatures of which so many inhabit Rushdie's books. He deserves the exit he gets, a magic "escape" into oblivion, a bit similar to the exit Castorp gets at the end of the "Magic Mountain", defintely not as clumsy, but as spirited in many ways. Only that he turns up again later, just for a few pages, to complete his task. Or not.
The others are left behind, whether alive or dead does not really matter, because this side-figure Shalimar affects their lives so deeply that life will not be able to continue one way or the other.
As the final chapters of the book drew me in considerably stronger than the first half, and as I still would never be able to drop a Rushdie novel and not finish it, I think the end of the day I can be pleased. I met some people I liked, some people I loathed, and some about whose fate I could not care less - and I have the suspicion that this is very near to what the author wants me to be…