Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Fury

This is my first Salman Rushdie book. I wasn't too sure what to expect. Apart from his various appearances on Real Time with Bill Maher, my knowledge of Rushdie's work was limited to knowing his novel The Satanic Verses (1988) resulted in a fatwa being issued calling for his execution, and he had to go into his hiding. From hearing him talk, I knew him to be a very intelligent, well-read, thought-provoking individual, and it was my hope those elements would carry over into his 2001 novel, Fury. Thankfully, that turned out to be the case.

Malik Solanka, a well respected professor and acclaimed doll maker, carries within some sort of rage. He's not sure why it's there or what to do about it, but when he fears he might bring harm to his wife and child, he leaves London without warning and flees to New York. There, he traces the source of his fury, all the personal, historical, social, financial, and professional reasons, as he tries to escape who he was in Great Britain. .

Fury reminded a lot of the novel Herzog (1964) by Saul Bellow. That also featured an intellectual retreating into his mind and analyzing his relationships and past, and just like Herzog, this novel sticks to it protagonist's thoughts and interpretations to a large degree. Both protagonists are separated from their wife and child, in mid-life crises, angry at the world and developing a relationship with another woman, among other parallels. Both feature uncertainty about the reliability of our main characters.

Unlike Herzog, Fury maintains more clarity and isn't written as stream-of-conscious, nor does it shift from third person to first person. Rushdie also will go off at times to explain the backgrounds of other characters and historical events from a more detached standpoint. There's numerous other differences: Herzog's wife leaves him, whereas Solanka leaves his; Herzog wants to find himself while Solanka wants to lose himself; Herzog is a writer while Solanka makes dolls; Herzog wants to kill his wife, Solanka wants to keep his safe.

Fury can be difficult. Rushdie packs the novel with numerous references and allusions, ranging from deep philosophical concepts and historical events to pop culture. It's easy to get lost. But it's also very funny, and darkly so. It's also sad at times. Some of the people Solanka are particularly tragic and more miserable than he is. The novel essentially describes how people, shaped by their experiences with society and others, can drive them to make more destructive decisions.

I don't know. This is a hard book to write about because to describe the character would be giving away stuff you learn as you read. It's not really a high concept plot you can summarize easily. On one hand, I risk saying I didn't get it and having people say it's beyond me. On the other, I can pretend like I get it and hope no one notices. I guess the best I can say is it makes want to read more Rushdie.

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