Bookerthon posts as much about the process of gorging on thirteen contemporary novels in a matter of weeks as the actual books, and with several very lengthy books in there we'd better chat along the way or there'll be a blank screen here.
So finally the moment arrives, I must open the book and start to read my first Salman Rushdie. The Enchantress of Florence has been winking at me seductively but somehow, I've now convinced myself I won't understand a word.
How has this happened? I really have no idea
Have I blotted out previous bad Rushdie experiences? Did I pick up one and start hyperventilating with confusion?
I honestly can't remember.
I spend quite a lot of time procrastinating unnecessarily over the endpapers which are, like the cover, quite lavish and intricate and there's plenty of visual material to waste your time over. A hive of industry, building a palace with a couple of interlocking pachyderms at one end, and a complex aerial Florentine illustration with a zillion individual houses,and bridges over a river at the other.Talking of the cover there's an interesting little picture there too, took me a while but I sorted out the limbs and, er...etc in the end.
Sir Salman smiles at me neath hooded lids, benignly and encouragingly (or is is smugly?) from the endflap and I feel brave enough to take the plunge.
Surprisingly, though not that surprisingly as it's written in English, I start to read and I do understand. It's not unintelligible goobledygook after all and soon, to the amazement of all around me (because I've made such a fuss about this...oooohhhhh nooooooo I've got to read that Rushdie book yet) before I know it, I'm up to page
50 76 120. I'm even getting a grip on the story, and that stinker of a review by Christopher Bray in The Literary Review is starting to fade from memory, but the essence lingers in the air as I read, brace yourself,
'enfolded incontinent sentences'
'infelicities of expression'
'Rushdie has never once written a book whose pages demand turning'
'gaudy, congested, globe-trotting extravaganza'
'gobbet after gobbet of ill-digested research salted with self-consciousness about the construction of fiction'
And if you thought it couldn't get any worse, here's Peter Kemp in The Times
'None of this saves the novel from being, by a long chalk, the worst thing he
has ever written.'
'The prose often looks as if it has been scissored out of some antiquated historical novelette:'
'Sadly, by the time you reach the end of this novel with its garish banalities and depthless sensationalisms, what you're most aware of are the 1,001 ways in which it would have been more profitable and enjoyable to pass the time.'
But who are we to believe? Here's salon.com
'This is the most assured Rushdie novel in many years, largely because it transpires entirely within the never-land of endlessly multiplying stories that he rightly regards as his imaginative home.'
Phew, you have to hope Sir Salman has thick skin, the average person would be through and done with several layers of irreplaceable epidermis after reading that.
The yellow-haired traveller arrives from afar bearing messages and secrets he must deliver in person to the Emperor. He's sporting a coat which attracts my attention in an instant, a patchwork of multi-coloured leather lozenges. I haven't heard that word in ages,
Lozenge - a four-sided planar figure with a diamondlike shape; a rhombus that is not a square.
Suddenly one simple visual reference ignites my imagination and I'm there, catapulted into Rushdie-Land.
Now I'm basking in the whole story and disagreeing with Christopher and Peter.
True, I've come across a few episodes of cliche-ridden imagery and I've taken those on the chin and all right the research is sort of jumping out and biting me, and I'm a bit suspect about this great long list of reference books at the end. Especially suspect given the thanks to the person who did all the research, because I naively would expect the author to have read ALL those books himself or isn't the information lazily acquired and applied and third party to boot, but what do I know?
Perhaps Sir Salman is a very busy man.
I'm barely halfway and still enjoying the book for what it is, but something else seems to have happened to plenty of people reading The Enchantress of Florence. Initial enthusiasm dissipates into an acute disappointment verging on a sense of loss with the second half of this book, perhaps they feel cheated?
Christopher Bray again, recycling a quote from Auberon Waugh,
'Anyone fool enough to want to read it is, of course, free to do so.'
It could go either way here, I'll keep you posted.