I’m a bit of a slow reader to begin with. When I read I take my time and try to engage every page and every word. I don’t skim and will reread sections when I feel like I didn’t understand them. This led to trouble while reading Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. Damn this book took me a long time to finish. First it is fairly lengthy at 500 plus pages. And then there is Rushdie’s writing style. His method of writing doesn’t lend to casual reading. He uses a combination of Indian and English termed “Babu English” that takes a fair amount concentration. Not mention his atypical use of grammar and often distended and laborious sentences. This book is complex. Make no mistake about it. It is a sturdy tangle of thick, and often, obscure words.
Despite its density, the novel was pretty good. It was well written, it was original, interesting and unpredictable and I enjoyed reading it. The setting and characters were exciting well-developed and interesting. The multilayered novel consists mostly of the life story Saleem Sinai. A boy born during the first hour of India’s independence, along with 1,001 other children of India, all of whom were blessed with magical abilities. The trial and tribulations of Saleem closely follow with the actual history of India, from Nehru’s India toward Indira’s India, as well as that of Pakistan and Bangladesh (some of the novel takes place pre-partition). The political reality of the book would be much more rewarding if you have an interest in, or knowledge of, Middle Eastern history and religion.
Rushdie’s story telling ability is definitely notable and his telling tales-within-tales is very enjoyable but also very much like Garcia Marquez, whom in my opinion is more a pleasurable and worthwhile read. The magical realism allows for a surreal and distorted sense of the novel’s people and places. Much of the novel is larger than life and many of the events seem more important than they really are or should be. Adding to Rushdie’s literary complexity are many twists and turns regarding the relationships between the characters. In addition, there are name changes, sub-plots, nick-names, false-starts, tons of symbolism (much of it I didn’t even pick up on) u-turns, and plot twists.
I paid the price of patience with this novel but felt I wasn’t truly rewarded and that’s always a bit of a bummer. The novel just didn’t do it for me. It is by no means a life-changing novel or even near my top 10 best books I’ve ever read. And although a second read would undoubtedly open this story up, that probably won’t be happening for me.