Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Adieu, Joseph Anton

I've so been looking forward to this particular post and now what I am is, possibly, coming down with something and my head feels, oh! so fuzzy. But inspired by Mr Rushdie, I refuse to let that stop me from declaring, with great joy and relief, that I have finished Joseph Anton. Honestly, it's a day that could not come too soon.

Being a Rushdie fan, I had been looking forward to the book before it was published, but the reviews were so universally awful that even I opted not to read Joseph Anton. Then, a few weeks ago, it was on the table at the local used bookstore. I reasoned that neither Mr Rushdie nor his publishers would make any money from the purchase (sadly, I do think in such terms) and, when Scott reminded me that Mr Rushdie did not come off at all well in the book I argued, reasonably, I thought, that, "Even if the author is a jerk, he's a good writer and he can tell a good story." Which, you know, based on Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Midnight's Children, and The Satanic Verses is nothing but true. I would include The Ground Beneath Her Feet on that list though others at this address would not. So, truly, I was not prepared to find the writing and storytelling in Joseph Anton so abysmal. It's a first draft, is this book, and why a man who, it seems to me though I haven't actually made the effort to look at the novels on the shelves here to confirm, excels at the first person voice thought it made sense to write a work of autobiographical nonfiction in the third person, I cannot understand. Maybe even Mr Rushdie was embarrassed by what he was spewing forth. There's the expected self-pity and self-importance (and who among us can say that he didn't have plenty of cause?), but also what can only be termed relentless name-dropping. Honestly, did the man not have any contact with anyone who was not an award-winning writer/artist/politician for more than a decade? Mr Rushdie is presented without fail as brave, clever, persecuted but rising above it not in the sort of prose that one might expect from so fine a writer but in the structure and language of, well, a very pedestrian blogger.

 Anyway. I've finished the book now. The final, post-9/11 chapter has some fine things to say (mostly quotes from columns Mr  Rushdie wrote thirteen years ago) about the importance and power of literature and that, I hope, is what I'll take away from the book. Authors can be frail and flawed individuals, and they can write seriously bad books on occasion, but, at least much some much some no, much, damn it, of the time, literature itself is something more.

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