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Why I read the New York Times rather than the Washington Post: Parul Sehgal.

You’ll never find so sharp and beautiful an evisceration of a book in UD‘s local paper, the Post. You’ll never find anything approaching it.

I’ve already talked about the stellar NYT music critic, Anthony Tommasini; next comes one of their book reviewers, who writes an informed, literate, playful take-down of Salman Rushdie’s latest novel. This is really good critical writing. Let’s see how she does it, with a few excerpts.

The novels are imaginative as ever, but they are also increasingly wobbly, bloated and mannered. He is a writer in free fall. What happened?

This will be her main point throughout: Rushdie retains his fantastic capacity to imagine, but has lost, over years of generating many novels, the structural and empirical grounding that made Midnight’s Children magic realism. Here’s her best paragraph:

That famous style has congealed in recent years; the flamboyance that once felt so free now seems strenuous and grating. “If he had a fault, it was that of ostentation, of seeking to be not only himself but a performance of himself,” Rushdie writes of a character in his novel “The Enchantress of Florence,” which could read like stinging self-critique. The later books — “Shalimar the Clown,” “Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights,” “The Golden House” — are all tics, technique and hammy narration that try to toupee over patchy stories, exhausted themes, types passing as characters. For a writer so frequently praised for ingenuity, Rushdie actually follows a formula of sorts. You could make yourself a bingo card: Classic Novel or Myth used as Scaffolding, Femme Fatale, Story within the Story (recounted by a Garrulous Narrator), Topical Concerns, Defense of Hybridity.

Toupee, right? The image captures the desperate, theatrical (“hammy”), fakery of someone who has aged out of – if you will – a full head.

Rushdie’s narrative impulses are centrifugal; they lie in tossing in celebrity cameos and literary allusions, in sending new plots into orbit in the hope they might lend glitter and ballast to a work sorely in need of both, sorely in need of tethering to the world, the concerted thinking and feeling of realism, not magic.

Glitter and ballast: A poetic pair with their flowing Ls and matching syllables and stresses and double letters. (See also: diamonds and rust.) In a very short review, Sehgal demonstrates deep knowledge of Rushdie’s work and of contemporary literature; she explains with uncompromising logic why his latest novel fails; and she writes enticing prose rich with metaphor.

Margaret Soltan, August 28, 2019 7:21AM
Posted in: good writing

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