Thursday 12 May 2016

Book Review: Fury, by Salman Rushdie

Book Review: Fury, by Salman Rushdie

I ended up reading Fury only because my Kindle, on which I had lined up a bunch of books to read on my recent trip, decided that the second day of the journey (while I was still in the train to Delhi) was a good time to conk out. This left me with a limited number of options in terms of books available on the tablet device, which I had carried as an afterthought. One of them was Fury.

Fury is a short book, compared to Midnight’s Children or Shalimar the Clown. It also lacks the sheer magnificence of either. Which is not to say it is not a good book. Like an out-of-form Don Bradman, this only means that it’s like a century in two sessions instead of the customary double-century at run-a-minute.  The writing flows well, there are passages of a class that only he, perhaps, can reach, and the quirkiness of his magical realism runs through the narrative like a bubbling, frothing current.

The story (inasmuch as a Rushdie novel can be said to have one), is about Malik “Solly” Solanka, a retired Professor of History who has made a fortune as a doll-maker, his greatest and most successful creation being ‘Little Brain’. Malik starts the story in New York City, having just pulled a Charles Strickland on his much-younger wife and 3-year-old son. Here, he is pulled into the life and troubles of an old friend, a black man trying to fit into New York’s country-club society, and Mila Milo, a beautiful Serbian girl who is a huge fan of ‘Little Brain’. Add an angle of murders of high-society girls (of which Solanka wonders if he is himself guilty, since he almost murdered his wife before leaving her) and the possible incest between Mila Milo and her father; a relationship she tried to replicate with him, and we have a proper melting pot of social commentary, thriller and sex.

(c) The Guardian.
Also, clearly Neela.
Later, we are introduced to the third significant woman in Solanka’s life, the stunningly beautiful Neela, a half-Indian from an island named Lilliput-Blefescu (polish up on your Swift, people. Jonathan, not Taylor. Though they’re both amazing.) As Solanka again runs, and then gets pulled into the politics of Neela’s homeland, even as Mila Milo tries to get him over his creative rut and start making dolls, the story hurtles towards an ending that is, like most Rushdie endings, deeply unsatisfying and yet completely perfect in itself.

Compared to his other works, Fury is lacking. Malik Solanka is a Woody Allen-esque self insert. One does not expect to like or sympathise with the characters in a Rushdie novel, but Malik Solanka left me quite cold. His thoughts and actions seem too inconsistent to work in a fictional setting, and as a reader makes one wonder why he is at the centre of the story.

Mila Milo on the other hand is a well-drawn character. From her appearance to her personality, from her status at the ‘Queen of West Seventieth’, to her role as a ‘new technology’ evangelist and even as incest survivor (though in denial), she’s thoroughly believable.

Neela, however, is for most of the book trapped within her own beauty and even her heroic turn at the end is a little scripted, too video-game like.

The Little Things
At the end, only Rushdie’s superb writing stands out.  Though a hate-letter to New York culture, Fury shows itself to be very much a product of it; superficial but attractive (Rushdie’s depiction of it, not mine.)

Now this is harsh, but when this is the same writer who gave us Shame and Midnight’s Children and Shalimar the Clown (which, released but four years later, is a far superior work) that makes it hard to be kind. Solanka’s childhood, his young-adult life and his later successes are dangled just out of the reader’s reach, throwaway mentions covered in a three-page span, while his ruminations on contemporary culture, on sexual deviance among the super-rich, on the reluctance of British women to give oral sex vis-à-vis American women, and such topics are given page-time that is precious in a book this short.

Neither is Solanka’s success with women ever justified in any way; rather the women are objectified through his eyes, their beauty the focus, the reasons he actually loves them or they love him never brought out. We are left to imagine it, and sometimes I frankly could not.

On the other hand, there are quite brilliant passages, imagery and idiosyncratic denouements that remind us that Rushdie is a literary genius even when he’s not at his best.

Fury is a difficult book to call. Like Agnes Grey, which suffers from being written by the sister of Emily and Charlotte Bronte, it suffers from being written by the man whose other books will stand up and be counted a century from now. Nonetheless, for an understanding of a creative Indian NRI’s midlife crises (Solanka and Rushdie both) and the flavour of American life at the height of the dot-com boom, one would do well to take up this book.

Available here

His next novel should be called 'Smug'.


  1. I've read bits of it multiple times. Because this was the only book of Rushdie's available in the office library.

    I found the scenes where he doesn't know that he is expressing his anger outwardly to be very well written.

    1. Agree, those are the 'idiosyncratic denouements' I mentioned.

  2. Great review, Percy. I am not sure I have the intellectual capacity to understand or appreciate SR, but after reading this I just might give it a try?