Well, that makes it three in a row. First there was John Williams stunningly imagined 1965 'Stoner', dragged out of obscurity for a new lease of life in the 21st century. Then pops up Ian McEwan's 'Saturday', where we can engage with his brilliantly drawn Henry Perowne. And more recently, I stumble upon Salman Rushdie's turn of the century 'Fury' where we can follow the travails of the angst ridden Malik Solanka. All three novels have as their overriding theme the horrors of mid-life existential dread.


So what can we say of these three authors? Either they have far too much time on their hands or they have all reached the same point of existential crisis; that is, once basic need have been met; regular food, shelter and income, there is the small matter of trying to create meaning in a seemingly meaningless universe. Of course, all this scratching around for meaning may be deemed a tad indulgent given that three quarters of Earth's citizens live, even today, in either absolute or relative poverty. I tend to take the opposite view: to be human is to require intellectual as well as physical nourishment and shelter. And without doubt, all three of the above mentioned authors provide, in their own unique way, just that.

Witty in places with moments of genuine profundity, but mostly puerile and contrived, I found Rushdie's Malik Solanka the least convincing of the three. For the most part I felt I was just ploughing through an account of Rushdie's own mid-life crisis. I never really bought into Professor Solanka in the way that I did with John Stoner and Henry Perowne. It always felt that this was Rushdie's story complete with his own real life experiences with some of his sexual fantasies thrown in for good measure. And to be brutally honest, I found it all rather tedious. From start to finish I never actually cared about the good professor or his furies.

Rushdie's flirtation with Sci-fi and his laboured Galileo, an attempt at a story within a story, simply falls flat. His Puppet Kings and the imagined world that our Professor Solanka seeks to retreat into, just doesn't work. A good try SR but not this time I'm afraid.

I don't know whether 'Fury' contains an accurate description of turn of the century New York. I'm not qualified to say. It probably is a fair reflection on celebrity New York, a world that Rushdie seems to be at home in, but he doesn't seem to have much insight into working class New Yorkers. There is a plumber, a cleaner and a taxi driver but they have only bit parts and they come across as well rehearsed stereotypes. 'Fury' focuses primarily on the high life, a world that Rushdie is both critical of yet inexorable drawn to.

Despite my negative review, there is both a valid critique of American materialism and a stinging critique of life itself running through the pages of Fury, and the book is worth a read for this alone. Early on in the story, one of Professor Solana's academic friends tells his students;

Expect nothing, don't you know. That's what the good book says. There will be no improvement in the way life is. Dreadful news, I know, but there you have it. This is as good as it gets. This perfectibility of man is just, as you might say, God's bad joke.' P22 

In a similar vein, Solanka reflects;

'But perhaps he was not the only identity to be coming apart at the seems. Behind the facade of this age of gold, this time of plenty, the contradictions and impoverishment of the western human individual, or let's say the human self in America, were deepening and widening. Perhaps that wider disintegration was also to be made visible in this city of fiery, jewelled garments and secret ash, in this time of public hedonism and private fear.' P86

There is a lot more of this type of rumination and it resonates in the brain all right. My favourite amongst many is this;

'In the tormented flames and anguished bullets Malik Solanka heard a crucial, ignored, unanswered, perhaps unanswerable question  the same question, loud and life shattering as a Munch scream, that he had just asked himself: is this all there is? What, that is it? This is it?' P184

Who hasn't asked themselves those very same questions somewhere along the line? I'm certain Rushdie, Williams and McEwan ask themselves those very same questions all the time.

'Fury' might have been a more rewarding endeavour had it been a straight autobiographical account of Rushdie's New York experiences. Rushdie's own life is dramatic enough, as is evidenced in his Anton Joseph memoir. No need to go to all the bother of creating a whole set of imagined and rather contrived characters when the author's own experiences are there to be told. Nowhere did I find myself giving a damn about the fate of Professor Solanka. The definite sign of a failed enterprise. Of course, anyone who has soared to great heights, as has SR, has the right to fail every now and then. Rushdie has earned that right. His latest offering,  Joseph Anton, living life under a fatwa, shines out amongst the routine dross. And Rushdie may yet, once again, excel in novel form before lethargy and dementia set in. I hope so!

Perhaps the greatest failing of Fury, one that was totally beyond the control of Mr Rushdie, was the timing of the thing. Had it been written one year later, in the aftermath of 9/11, the whole thing would have had a far more profound resonance. In the shadow of the bombed out twin towers, Fury might have been another Rushdie masterpiece. As it is, the best I can offer is a lame, take it or leave it.

End JPK Copyright 12/11/14

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Last Updated ( Monday, 21 May 2018 08:42 )