They called me stinkypants novelstuff, sillyface novelstuff, lazybones novelstuff, and various other names, but it never bothered me, because I had the special gift of being able to plough through long novels, while other kids played outside in the bright summer’s sun.
As John Major was presiding over Britain’s role in the Gulf War, I was reading Midnight’s Children (1981) by Salman Rushdie in a washing chest. Saleem, born at the stroke of midnight on the exact hour of India’s independence grows up alongside his country. He has a most wondrous nose, a facial accessory that almost rivals his ego for size. This nose leads him through the novel, conferring upon him special powers, which add colour to stories of family strife and national politics. The magical storyline, with its narrative stretching across the generations reminds one of One Hundred Years of Solitude and yet at times Rushdie’s style seems quite the opposite of Márquez’s.
The prose is florid and at times turgid, but it creates a leisurely tone that is appropriate to the chaotic musings of a young boy. Perhaps the only slight off-note comes later when the prose is rushed and frenetic just as Saleem enters a phase of enchanted, Buddha-like existence.
Saleem is a complex character whose inflated sense of self-import occasionally irritates. The other characters tend to fall into one of two categories, either incredibly vibrant characters, ready to burst out of the page, like the domineering American schoolgirl Evie Burns, or thinly sketched characters with little colour to them, such as the young soldiers Ayooba, Shaheed, and Farooq, and even the Most Charming Man In The World, Picture Singh.
I closed the book and lay there in the stifling heat of the washing chest, slowing becoming convinced that this book, with its emphasis on history and story-telling, had actually been written for me and me alone, old stinkypants novelstuff.