Thursday, February 24, 2005

8. The Ground Beneath Her Feet

by Salman Rushdie

First, an informal survey:

Number of books I’ve read solely because they inspired a U2 song: 1

Okay, survey complete. I’d never read a Rushdie before and while I know most would start with Midnight’s Children or The Satanic Verses, I made a promise to myself, however many years ago that the song came out, that I’d read the book that inspired it. When I saw a nice hardbacked copy on sale at Unabridged, I knew the time had come.

It’s taken me two tries to get through this monster of a book. At 575 pages it isn’t exactly A Suitable Boy, but it’s not the quickest of reads, either. The first time was around when I started my god-awful receptionist job and I was so stressed about everything that there was no way I could begin to immerse myself in this story. Seems like this book has a penchant for bringing about job unrest, because this time around I got no more than a third into it when I decided that I really needed to get on the job search thing. And, because it is such a big hardbacked version, I got tired of lugging it around with me on the El, resigning myself to reading it at home where, thanks to the renewed job search, I no longer had any free time. At least, not enough to get into this, as I’ve said, monster of a book. I don’t have a new job yet, but around the 20th I freaked out about the 52 Books and committed myself to finishing it by the end of the month. See, that’s what the 52 Books is for!

There are books that I don’t feel smart enough to read. Vanity Fair is among those and Doppleganger, in her 50 Books Challenge, wondered whether Midnight’s Children might be among hers. I can’t comment on that, one of Rushdie’s most famous works, but I will say that there were parts of The Ground Beneath Her Feet that I didn’t understand. Only, I don’t think I wasn’t smart enough to get them. I think, perhaps, they shouldn’t have been in the story to begin with. Far be it for me to criticize Mr. Rushdie, but I have heard this novel referred to as one of his weakest and, while I wouldn’t necessarily call it bad, I can see where his critics are coming from.

The story is mainly that of a love triangle between Vina and her two loves, Ormus and Rai. Rai is our narrator. The story is also one of rock ‘n’ roll and the effects it has on culture, nations, and lives: “Sound and silence, silence and sound. This is a story of lives pulled together and pushed apart by what happens in (and between) our ears.” We follow Rai’s life from the moment his parents meet to the moment of Vina’s death and, in between, there’s a whole lot of stuff going on. Stuff involving Vina, stuff involving Ormus, stuff involving the extended families of all three… Okay, I’m not saying this is a bad book. I’m not saying that at all. It’s a pretty straightforward love story and there’s a lot of character development and backstory, too much to summarize here, and I’m really quite fond of those sorts of things. The problem is that sometimes it feels like the book just wasn’t edited. There are a lot of passages that seem unnecessary, that read like they were the result of a pen wankoff, and added very little to the comprehension of an otherwise luminous story. Rai’s – really, Rushdie’s – long contemplations on life, death, and love didn’t enchant me. They just made me groan and think, here we go again.

I also have a problem with authors switching voice in the middle of a story and though the novel remains as told through Rai’s eyes, there are parts that come very close to losing him as a narrator altogether. There’s an entire chapter, when Ormus meets Mull Standish and he embarks on his recording career, that’s told in this weird omniscient tone, bereft of even quotation marks. I don’t mean to get down on grammar, but the digression from the rest of the book’s tone made it difficult to even follow what was happening. There were ghosts and hoards of Vina impersonators and surreal talking things on video tapes; there were historical moments that were entirely changed from fact but without any recognition of this change. We’re living in Rai’s world, and in Vina’s and Ormus’s, but everyone once in a while something is stolen from outside and its inclusion is far from seamless. The ending, too, seemed to have overstayed its welcome by about a hundred pages.

Maybe I’m not smart enough to get this book. I’m not going to pretend I understand everything I read, but in this case I think, maybe, it’s not just me. Overall, I did like it and if this is one of Rushdie’s weakest, I now have a major jones to read anything else he’s written. And I’ve gotten that all important Book-Inspired-U2-Song Quotient up to where it should be.

Stars: Three


Blogger Doppelganger said...

Woohoo, Exxie! Nice work.

And for what it's worth, I think you've got more than enough smarts for Vanity Fair. I quite liked it when I read it about a decade ago, and trust me, I was (and remain) not that smart. Coincidentally, I've actually been thinking of re-reading it lately.

3:38 PM  
Blogger Exxie said...

Thanks Doppelganger! I don't know if I'll ever be able to finish Vanity Fair, though. I feel like I'm missing so much of the story because I can't get past the language and I'd do better with Cliff's notes by my side. Maybe someday I'll finish those final 350 pages...

10:15 PM  
Blogger Dana said...

I tried reading VF like, in 10th grade or something, because Thack and I have the same birthday, so I was all, hey, I'll like this book! And it turns out that I didn't, because Becky was so horrid. I actually had to stop reading it because it was so unenjoyable. And like, I get that that's the point, but. . .I don't like the point. That's also why I don't read Coupland or Bukowski (or Candace Bushnell, for that matter) But it's not a mentally taxing read or anything. Don't be afraid!

12:57 PM  
Blogger Exxie said...

Yeah...but I have issues with Victorian lit. Some stuff I find so easy to read and some of it I can barely understand what's happening. VF is in the latter category. It's too much work for 800 pages.

8:12 PM  
Blogger Dana said...

You finally motivated me to try to start my own book blog at I meant to do it starting in January, really I did, and then the book I picked. . .was not . . .so great. . .and I spent a whole month trying to read it. So I screwed the pooch on that one. But I finally found a book I like, and I want to write about it, so. . .we'll see how it goes.

3:38 AM  

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