Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Shalimar The Clown

A slow, ponderous and plodding narrative!

This is a book that is ostentatiously about the transformation of a Kashmiri stage performer into a vengeful assassin, but ends up being about too many things. The plot is the scorned love of the protagonist and his Kashmiri dancer wife. An American ambassador to India, an illegitimate daughter (named India), and the consequent murder of the ambassador by Shalimar The Clown, complete the plotline. In between, while giving a remarkable insight into the Kashmiri way of life, which sadly includes the terrorist camps operating at the Kashmir border, we see how Shalimar goes from being a fun-loving, talented gymnast to becoming a brutal, inhuman killing machine.

The story has many potential winning points, but there are so many sidetracks in the narrative that its very difficult to remain invested in the actual story. The author seems confused about the purpose of this book - is it a description of the Kashmir conflict, is it scorned love, is it obsessions, is it the pitfalls of ambition, or is it communal politics? In the end, apparenty unable to decide among those choices, he decides to talk about a little bit of all the above. And so, for pages on end, the actual story is put aside while the author expounds on all manner of subjects. Not surprisingly, this leads to a very disjointed narrative.

I believe that the main purpose of a fictional book should be the telling of a story. And if, through the telling of this story, you throw light on real-life subjects, issues or philosophies, its an added plus; but the story should at all times remain the focal point of the book. This book spectacularly fails to do that. And so it is very difficult to retain interest or any kind of continuity in the narrative.

Of course, considering that the writer is actually a genius, there are inevitable flashes of brilliance, like this line : "you never know the answers to the questions of life until you are asked". But such lines are few and far apart, and ultimately unable to redeem the book.

Not one of Rushdie's better works.

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