Now, before I begin this post, I have a rather funny story about the book and it’s relation to my family.
Before the days of the British recession, my grandfather and grandmother owned various bookshops throughout the UK, aptly named Bookland (sounds like an amazing place, right?). When Rushdie’s novel came out in 1981, they were planning to stock it on their shelves, as it was a controversial novel and due to be a bestseller. They weren’t wrong. Not long after Midnight’s Children was shelved, my grandparents received threats, claiming unless they took the book off their shelves, the shop would be vandalised. They took the note to the police for precaution but continued to sell the novel anyway. A few weeks later, a strange parcel arrived at their house, with a handwritten address label and no postage stamp, meaning it was delivered by hand. They hadn’t remembered ordering anything and the parcel looked suspicious, so they notified the police. They had the parcel scanned and X-rayed, which showed up some thin, wire-looking shapes, connected to a main body. Then the bomb squad turned up. Honestly, it’s like something out of James Bond. The parcel was placed in their bin in the back garden and was blown up safely by the police department. On closer inspection, what was actually in the box? Plant bulbs. My grandfather had ordered plant bulbs and completely forgotten about them. The long, thin wire-looking objects were plant roots.
So yes, back to the review. The story, set in Bombay, is a tale of East vs. West, narrated by Saleem Sinai who wears born on the stroke of midnight, on 15th August 1947, at the exact moment when India gained its independence. In the third paragraph of his narration, he claims: “I have been a swallower of lives; and to know me, just the one of me, you’ll have to swallow a lot as well. Consumed multitudes are jostling and shoving inside me…” He has a lot to disclose to the reader and wants to share it as it happened, as he experienced it. Saleem has many strange attributes that change as his narrative goes on. He has a psychic connection to all the other children born in the same hour that he was.
From the blurb of the novel, I was really excited to read it. However, after 100 pages in (out of 650!!) I began to tire and started to skim read. I practically skim read the entire thing, from about page 200 onwards. The novel is split into Book I, II, and III. Saleem isn’t actually born until Book II. Book I gives his entire family history up until his mother conceives him, something I found so tedious. I found the narration tiring and hard to keep up with. Saleem has many factual errors. He acknowledges the fact that he misplaced Gandhi’s death in his chronological sequence of events. This is obviously an important moment in Indis’s history. He also misremembered the date of an election. He frequently worries about the accuracy of his story, having had amnesia in the past that caused him to forget everything about himself, even his name. Yet Saleem continued to maintain his version of events, which may differ to how they actually happened. Saleem says that memory creates its own truth, and so do narratives.
I could not concentrate on this novel, and kept finding myself wondering when it would finish.
Overall rating: 3/5