It’s been almost two months since I finished reading The Shadow of the Wind, and almost two months since I started reading Shalimar the Clown (by Salman Rushdie). I’ve now finished reading Shalimar but I’m not quite sure how I feel about the novel.

I think I knew, when I finished reading Shadow, that any book that immediately followed it would be at a disadvantage, but something had to be next in line, and it just so happened that a colleague of mine had lent me her copy of Shalimar the Clown. If we’re being completely honest here (which I always try to be), she wasn’t so much “lending” as she was “challenging me to read this book that she gave up on after about three pages”. But by this I mean that she gave it to me in the belief that I would conquer it, rather than doubting that I could do any better.

Well, anyway, the book is separated into five sections, each centred around and named after a character of some importance to the story: India, Boonyi, Max, Shalimar, and Kashmira.

I think the book started off quite well, and the ending was suitably horrific, but there were parts of the story that just went over my head a bit. Perhaps it was just me, or perhaps it’s my lack of knowledge about the long history of conflict around Kashmir, or maybe I wasn’t always in the best mindset for reading about this sort of thing; but I got a bit lost somewhere in the middle of it all – mostly in Max and Shalimar’s respective sections. There kind of seemed to be a lot of extra information that wasn’t completely necessary for the story.

Ok, to be fair, it could be argued that all that stuff about WWII and about all those terrorist groups and whatever was important because it showed the reader who Max was, and let the reader get inside Shalimar’s mind; but there were definitely more than a couple of paragraphs that were just loaded with acronyms and abbreviations and random names, and I just wasn’t sure if they were important, or if Rushdie had purposefully loaded them all into the same paragraphs to build a certain kind of intensity (which he did achieve).

Likewise, he seemed to like writing massively long sentences void of commas (where one would usually put plenty of commas). And, yes, it had the good effect of producing some adrenaline, but my inner grammar nazi did wince a little. But I do appreciate the writing style.

Actually, for the most part, the writing wasn’t an issue for me. It’s unique, but it’s reasonably well-written. Earlier on, in discussing the book with the friend who had lent it to me, I remember saying that it’s written in such a way that I’d be reading about one thing, and then the events will suddenly move somewhere else in such a way that I don’t realise until I’m well and truly somewhere else.

Surprisingly, the more I read, the more I felt like there were similarities between Shadow and Shalimar. The most noteworthy of these is the weaving of the supernatural into what essentially sounds and feels like a “normal”, real-life story. If you took out the supernatural aspects of the story, I’m sure you could easily believe that the events were all real, or at least based on a true story. Written any other way, you’d probably think it was absurd. But the way that Ruiz Zafon wrote Shadow, and the way that Rushdie wrote Shalimar – you could be forgiven for thinking that it was real – that all of it was real.

However, unlike ShadowShalimar the Clown isn’t really the sort of novel I particularly want to read again. The feeling I have with Shalimar is similar to what I felt with The Kite Runner. Actually, after re-reading my post on that one, I realise it’s almost the exact same feeling, minus the expectation of great sorrow. And while I don’t want to read Shalimar again, I do definitely want to read more of Rushdie’s work. Maybe not right away, but eventually. I’ve already added a few of his other books to my TBR list.

2 thoughts on “high-wire

  1. I love Salman Rushdie. Midnight Children and The Moor’s Last Sigh are two of my favorite books ever. Also, his autobiography is absolutely remarkable. But some of his books miss the mark and I feel Shalimar the Clown is one of them. (I also didn’t care for the Kite Runner all that much – I found the writing to be too basic and pedantic).

    • Whenever I’m disappointed by a book that’s written by a renowned author, part of me wonders if I missed something. Each to their own, I guess, but it’s still reassuring to know that others feel the same way.

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