The things I once loved about Salman Rushdie are the same things I now cannot stand.
Rushdie was the first “serious” author I ever read – and by that I mean the first from the literary establishment, after spending my teenage years consumed mostly with genre fiction. Twenty-year-old me found Fury and Midnight’s Children and The Satanic Verses absolutely dazzling – rich, textured, unknowable beasts.
Fifteen years later I’ve grown oh so very weary of the bald bearded one.
I’m not entirely sure whether it’s me that’s changed, or him. Probably a bit of both: I’ve gravitated more towards writers of spare and simple prose, and away from those of the florid everything-plus-10-kitchen-sinks stylists like Rushdie; and I’m sure most critics and readers would agree Rushdie is well past his prime. His recent memoir, Joseph Anton, was terrific but his post-millennial fiction has been largely subpar.
Nonetheless, I persist. I buy each new book, hoping to rekindle the love affair, to recapture that initial rush of new infatuation. Each and every time I’m disappointed – and never more so than with The Golden House.
The book begins – more or less – with the inauguration of Barack Obama. At the same time, wealthy Nero Golden and his three sons arrive in New York, fleeing terror and tragedy. They quickly become a part of the New York socialite scene and Nero comes in many ways to resemble the unstable narcissist who would one day replace the 44th president.
The book is like a third-tier prog-rock album: there are flashes of brilliance but they’re buried beneath so much self-indulgent bloat. Sentences ramble on like guitar solos that desperately want to impress but which quickly outstay their welcome. It’s verbose and bombastic, exhaustingly incoherent and insufferably overstuffed. Like most of Rushdie’s more recent work, it’s in desperate need of a ruthless editor.
Salman, my old friend: I think we’re done.