At 55, the Indian born, NY dwelling protagonist of Rushdie’s latest novel Fury, has the kind of rage which causes him to stand with a knife over the sleeping bodies of his wife and son, scream in public, and slip between the red heat of anger to blackouts which leave him questioning his sanity and public safety. His anger is also part of the broader anger of the world – the human condition, which prefigures recent terrorist attacks, and hints at the kind of anger which makes anything possible.
Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
Malik Solanka is mad. Not just irritated or cranky, but filled with fury, and not just his own fury, but the everyman fury that characterises his age. At 55, the Indian born, NY dwelling protagonist of Rushdie’s latest novel Fury, has the kind of rage which causes him to stand with a knife over the sleeping bodies of his wife and son, scream in public, and slip between the red heat of anger to blackouts which leave him questioning his sanity and public safety. His anger is also part of the broader anger of the world – the human condition, which prefigures recent terrorist attacks, and hints at the kind of anger which makes anything possible. Fury is used in many contexts in this novel, which is blackly funny, engaging, easy to read, and as verbose and modern as anything Rushdie has written. Fury is everything which is evil in man – the mythical flies; ugly sisters; Erinnyes; Eumenides; vengeful wrath: Terror, strife, Lies, Vengeance, Intemperance; Altercation, Fear and Battle. They are the pursuers of Orestes, guilt, hounding those deserving of their hunger. On the simplest level, the fury is Solanka’s guilt at leaving behind his 3 year old son Asmaan, who “twisted in him like a knife”, his fear of his self, and anger at the unspoken act performed on him by his stepfather long ago. There is also that empty, self-loathing at the heart of a fearful but prosperous America; a land of sitcoms and shopping malls, and superficial everything, leaving a deep and unfulfilled longing. This longing, also the impetus for creation in its highest form, is also part of that fury. Then there is the broader world’s fury; the fury of nations and religious fanatics fighting one another. This is the fury which Mila Milo’s father flies into – the Serbias and Croatias and Fiji or Lilliput-Blefuscu as Rushdie names it, or the middle east – the anger of a taxi driver screaming obscenities in his mother tongue, or the anger and ugliness of Eddie Ford’s father in Nowheresville, Nix. Tragedy; emptiness; murder for kicks, loneliness; death. This is all at the heart of Solanka’s fury.
As a character, Solanka’s contradictions, fears, and struggles are as potent as Ruhdie’s earlier characters: Vina Apsara, Moraes and Aurora Zogoiby, Gibreel Farista, or Saleem Sinai. Like his literary predecessors, Solanka is forever thinking, analysing, tying together the personal and cultural, and moving through a vastly changing world which mirrors the world of the reader in eerily familiar detail. Like his predecessors, he is a creator, and his creations grow larger than life, becoming tools, and symbols for the larger fury in which the characters in his world become caught up in. The totality of Solanka’s world; his mythical Little Brain doll, and the later hi-tech chronicles of the Puppet Kings are cleverly drawn, leading the reader in a complex, but thought provoking dialogue between creation and creator, which also reminds us that Solanka is as much a fictional creation as his doll’s Little Brain or Akasz Kronos.
While the book is as rich in linguistic skill and wordplay as any of Rushdie’s material, there are some problems with Fury. The number of references are so extensive, especially the references to current pop icon figures, that the book threatens to collapse from the number of names dropped. Few cultural icons escape mention, from Al Pacino, Jennifer Lopez (multiple mentions), Puff-Daddy, N’Sync, Lord of the Rings, Butch Cassidy, Madonna, Star Wars, Gandhi, Max Headroom, Tiger Woods, The Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, the Bush and Gore election (“Gush vs Bore”), Finnegan’s Wake, Robbe-Grillet, Butor, Amazon books, you name it. Piled into the novel so tightly, the ongoing references are tedious, and strain credulity, rendering the novel so heavily anchored to today, that it may become meaningless within a few years, despite the universality of the themes. In its attempt to assimilate youth culture, and pick up on all of its radio signals, while still continuing to bring together diverse themes such as the nature of academia, myth, history, political conflict, philosophy, fairy tales, children’s stories, science fiction, jingles and rock and roll, Rushdie dilutes his story and makes for an overly convoluted book, where the potential richness of its substance is marred by its reliance on known names and linguistic puns.
Another problem is that, while the book plays with reality and mirrors the magic realism style in its alternative worlds, it is actually a realistic novel, with none of the distortions of time, space or logic which characterise the magic realism form. Credulity is stretched at a point that is simply too close to junky romance and cheap sci fi novels to work in this context. For example, the effect of his beautiful young girlfriend Neela, on passers by just comes across as silly. This kind of thing just doesn’t happen in NYC, and smacks of a perfume commercial. Similarly, the events which take place on , on Lilliput-Blefuscu, as they mirror the mythical Internet world of Gallileo-1 are also unbelievable, with poorly drawn characters, and silly structures. Upon Solanka’s arrival, the customs official exclaims: “Not possible. Not possible. No notification was received”, upon seeing the creator on whom the Puppet King masks which everyone involved in the “revolution” wears. It is impossible to imagine such simplistic reponses, or that these people were imperious to the fact that their masks were created by someone who may have been modelling them after himself. The upper crust murder subplot also seems contrived, starting and stopping in a strange place on the outskirts of Solanka’s consciousness. The costumes worn by the murderers, and their sick games and trophy gathering, along with the rapid explanation of the mystery after his friend’s death, comes and goes too quickly, and once gone, is not referred to again, giving the whole episode a truncated feeling.
Nonetheless, Fury raises some very interesting and topical questions, such as the impact of technology, and where reality, beauty, and life’s meaning are found: “Professor Solanka listened to the sound of Eleanor’s voice and with some distaste imagined it being broken up into little parcels of digitized information, her low lovely voice first consumed and then regurgitated by a mainframe computer probably located someplace like Hyderabad-Deccan. What is the digital equivalent of lovely? He wondered. What are the digits that encode beauty, the number-fingers that enclose, transform, transmit, decode, and somehow, in the process, fail to trap or choke the soul of it?” Solanka’s feelings towards his son Asmaan, and even the desperation in his love for the beautiful Neela, hint at this quest for reality in the lonely, painful human condition, which isn’t soothed by advertising’s pale promises to make things better, or the suggestion that the human race was evolving in the “country of the diminutive”. For good and for bad, the fury is part of who we are, as is our uncertainty, and “the sense that nothing is written in stone, everything crumbles”. This is the terrible beauty on which the novel is based, and which, despite the purple pyrotechnics which undermine Rushdie’s prose, provide enough power to make the book work. The struggles which Solanka’s characters have, between light and dark, heart and mind, spirit and machine, are the struggles of everyman. Our sense of engagenent with the world in its ugliness and beauty, but above all, in reality – a reality that includes pain, especially the knive-edged, youthful exuberance in Solanka’s final jump for joy in the face of his love for his son Asmaan, “the only heaven in which he had ever been able to believe.”
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