Dangerous Stories

Over at the TLS, Ruth Morse reviews Salman Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence (via bookforum):

Because this is a romance, Salman Rushdie can exploit many sources (indeed, he gives a bibliography at the end); because this is a Rushdie romance, it combines aspects of the Italian romantic epics of both Boiardo’s and Ariosto’s Orlando with Persian and South Asian story collections and legendary history. Because good storytelling also knows what not to tell, Rushdie leaves many loose ends, from the unresolved questions of the stranger’s name and parentage and his fate, to Florentine and Mughal history, to the similarly unresolved endings of many of the dozens of characters he conjures up along the way. In the rush, many stories are sketched rather than told; no character is more than a suggestion, and no speech is individual to its speaker. Some of this is possible because we know these stories already, but all of it is at the cost of any exploration of individual or situation. They are, or seek to be, their own justification – but the price is high. Rushdie’s narrator is explicit about this: most audiences can leave, or close a book; when the king is the audience, the risks are higher. Long and boring narrators will be cut.

Salman Rushdie has used his gifts to explore large themes – such as mortality, nationality, religion and love – and his bitter disappointment in their failed promises. This ninth long fiction is a pendant to the previous one, Shalimar the Clown, published in 2005. And that book reprised aspects of Fury, published in 2001. All three books use breathtakingly paced sets of plots, interlinked with back stories, delightedly offending the boundaries of verisimilitude. All repeat elements which combine stereotypes with the writer’s own obsessions: Kashmir, revenge, the longing for peaceful religious and ethnic coexistence, and a savage anger about the perpetual dying of love. Rushdie has never been afraid to use popular media such as film or thriller plots, or traditional story collections, which he pillages in order to fascinate readers with his complex inventiveness and pyrotechnic style.