Flame-Broiled Whopper: Theo Tait on Salman Rushdie

From the London Review of Books:

Salman Rushdie’s two best books manage both these things – the big political picture and the telling individual detail – in different quantities. Midnight’s Children (1981) is a family story first and a political allegory about India second: a glorious reinvention of the Bombay of Rushdie’s childhood, of his own family stories (‘autobiography re-experienced as fairytale’, as Ian Hamilton put it). The exaggerations and magical touches are rooted in the characters and the story. Shame (1983), a savage satire about Pakistan, is a less personal and less peopled work, with a clear political message at its heart. But both, although baggy and prodigious, were anchored in subjects Rushdie knew intimately. Character and subject, like design and detail, were closely fused and passionately, originally imagined: they created something that could never be broken down into a mere message.

Perhaps understandably, these two great novels seem to have inspired Rushdie with a form of artistic megalomania. Since then, he has roved more freely, played faster and looser, written about anything and everything, and the results have never been as impressive. The Satanic Verses (1988), an interesting book with some brilliant passages, suffered from his belief that he could incorporate everything – from channel-hopping to the Prophet Muhammad’s flight to Medina, from advertising to race relations in Britain, from mountain-climbing to the nature of religious belief – into one all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza. The Moor’s Last Sigh (1995), which was based more squarely in Bombay, was better. And it’s surely no coincidence that his truly terrible last novel, Fury (2001), was an outsider’s view of New York – which begins in superficial imitation of Saul Bellow (ex-wives, big ideas, trying to read the city and the times) and ends in God knows what (serial killers, puppets, ethnic strife in the South Pacific etc).

More here.