I bought this book more out of a sense of duty than anything else – a desire to show support for its author. As I’m sure you’ll all know, shortly after the book was published (1988), Salman Rushdie had a fatwa issued against him by the mad Mullahs who had somehow managed to impose their brutal, repressive and immoral ideology on the poor sods living in the historic country of Iran. I believe they did eventually revoke the fatwa (probably in an attempt to get the West to lift sanctions) but by that time it was too late – every half-witted Islamic zealot was out to get him; and of course one of them finally did, earlier this year.
Rushdie’s ‘crime’, of course, was to write a book that might potentially cause the faithful to engage their brains for once in their lives and analyse the ideas and rules their religious leaders have brain-washed them with from the moment they were born. For that, he had to die. Well, I believe we have a duty to ensure these religious criminals are not successful in their attempts to repress the fundamental right of freedom of expression (and thereby; freedom of thought). Buying the offending book seemed like a good place to start, because the more copies that are sold, the more they will see their tactics have backfired.
So, to the book itself. I wanted to like this book; I really did. I made it through the five-hundred and forty-seven pages, but for much of the time, it felt like something akin to swimming upstream in a fast-flowing river. When a friend discovered I was reading it, she told me she’d tried, but gave up after the first two pages. When Rushdie writes straight (which happened more in the later stages of the book) he writes well. But so much of the text is affected, self-indulgent and practically impossible to follow, with sentences that are absurdly long, and punctuation that is, at times, all over the place. Italics and capitals are used unnecessarily, and he has a really irritating habit of joining all of the words in a phrase together. Someone should have told him the purpose of language is to communicate, not obfuscate. As an author, your job is to give the reader something they can understand, even if it challenges them; not to create over-complicated, unintelligible text that appears to be designed for the purpose of showing them just how clever you are (even if you are, as Rushdie seems to be, very clever).
The Satanic Verses is packed full of literary, cinematic, and religious references, most of which will go over most peoples’ heads (including, maybe especially, mine), particularly as the way they’re presented is so obtuse. At times it felt like I was working my way through a badly printed copy of the world’s longest general knowledge quiz.
At over five-hundred pages, the book is far too long; not helped by the author’s determination to put in at least three pages of description, and very intense back story, for every character he introduces (and there are lots of them) regardless of how incidental they are. Groups of characters are introduced, and then not seen again for another couple of hundred pages, by which time you’ve forgotten who they are. The main story is regularly interrupted by very long religious/spiritual fables and stories, including one that seems to be a telling of how the Islamic religion came into being. It wasn’t clear to me why they were there – they didn’t provide anything more than nominal support for the main story.
On the plus side, there’s a lot of good descriptive work. But equally, there’s often a lack of detail that leaves the poor reader wondering what’s going on. The book is mostly narrated by the author, but now and then the voice of a mysterious ‘guest star’ narrator butts in. Unfortunately, Rushdie did nothing to delineate these two voices, so you often don’t realise it’s the occasional narrator until you reach the end of the section (if at all). Oh, for those over-used italics, to let us know who’s speaking to us!
There is humour in there – in fact, quite late on I found myself wondering whether it’s intended as a comedy-drama. Actually, on reflection, it’s more farce than pure comedy. I have to admit I don’t get on well with most humorous novels; often the humour is too thin for me; the jokes too weak. I need something full-on to make me laugh (Douglas Adams and Ben Elton generally do the trick).
I’ll stop there. Let’s just say it wasn’t the most enjoyable book I’ve ever read. I feel bad – considering everything poor old Salman has suffered as a result of having this book published, I really wanted it to be good. I very much hope he doesn’t get to see this review (I don’t think it’s likely).
I don’t recommend this book to read, but I would urge you to buy it, to show solidarity with a very brave author and his determination to exercise his right to freedom of expression. Buy it to send a message to those who want to take away that right from us all. To save paper, you could buy the e-copy. Or buy a physical copy to display on your bookshelf (and impress your friends). Either way, buy it. Who knows, you may have different tastes to me – you might just find you love it…