The Golden House by Salman Rushdie
Random House, 2017; 380 pp
Reviewed by Sarah J. Schlosser
Political intentions, deliberately delayed consumption, and irrepressible humor mark the latest book by satirist Salman Rushdie, The Golden House. In a world of smart phones, social media, and instant gratification, Rushdie presents the literary equivalent of slow food, the demand being that the reader remember or at least be aware of generations and cultural references that might have befallen us all before the advent of our new global community. Part mystery, part romance, part satire (of course), and part Our Town for a habitat in the confines of a private enclosure of homes in New York City during the Obama presidency, Rushdie gives us a family of mystery in a cluster of neighbors curious and meddling, with the exception of the narrator, Rene, who infiltrates more and more access to the truth through quiet observation of the newcomers and his unexpressed wish to make the Goldens the subject of a film.
Rushdie often uses the written direction one might find in a movie or television script to introduce shifts of plot or segues between developments: use of the commands of “Cut,” speaker indication, and camera angles:
INTERIOR. NERO GOLDEN’S BEDROOM. NIGHT.
VASILISA is fast asleep in their large bed with its ornate, gilded rococo headboard. NERO’s eyes, too, are closed. Then, in an EFFECT SHOT, he “steps out of his body” and walks to the window. This ghost-self is transparent. The camera, behind him, sees through him to the heavy drapes, which he slightly parts, to look down at the Gardens. The “real” NERO continues to sleep in his bed.
The script approach isn’t the only one employed, however; Rushdie gives us little gifts of references to things we thought we had to leave behind in things, passions of music, literature, Greek gods. Just when the reader thinks Rushdie is completely committed to the intellectual, then a tragedy hits his narrator square between the eyes and the voice reaches away from head to the heart in a ragged, explicative-laden run-on sentence that breaks up in sobs of new paragraphs and stunned, repeated phrases of what occurred.
The Golden House can be incredibly dense in places; one of those books that serves as prime fodder for a literature professor looking to trip students up on detail memory, maybe, but more like a rich dish of ingredients one is still naming on the tongue days later, or like walking into a boutique and remembering something simply because you see it on the shelf and never thought it would be for sale again. When one realizes that if we looked away from our 140 (or, these days, 280) characters we could relate in a more complex, broad stroke in real time, and that real time becomes memorable instead of referenced on a timeline. While parts of the novel were stunningly violent and cruel, Rushdie can find ways to laugh at all of it in empathy in the next sentence or next chapter or even further down the down the book at the final page finish line; I never felt overwhelmed in reading this book, and therefore never wanted the insecurity of seeing it end and having to leave it behind.