Book: The ground beneath her feet - Livre d'Or








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livredor
Book: The ground beneath her feet
Tuesday, 05 June 2007 at 10:51 pm
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Author: Salman Rushdie

Details: (c) 1999 Salman Rushdie; Pub 1999 Trafalgar Square; ISBN 0-224-04419-2

Verdict: The ground beneath her feet is breathtakingly awesome.

Reasons for reading it: I love it with an abiding passion. And I happened to see adjacent posts on my flist with redbird reviewing The Armageddon Rag and wychwood reviewing this. It's been longer since I read tGBHF, mainly because my copy is was a large hardback that is awkward to carry around.

How it came into my hands: I heard Rushdie himself reading and promoting tGBHF in Oxford in 1999, the year of its publication. (That was just about the only worthwhile event I got out of being gullible enough to join the Oxford Union.) Anyway, Rushdie reads almost as well as he writes, and I was quite convinced I had to read tGBHF. For some reason that I still don't comprehend, the book bombed, and within a few months I picked up the hardback cheap in a remainder shop.

tGBHF is easily one of the best and most enjoyable books I have ever read. I can't talk about it without gushing. (I should note that I have bounced off Midnight's Children several times, and haven't managed to read The Satanic Verses, though I am also very fond of Rushdie's YA book Haroun and the sea of stories.) Where to begin my explanation of why it is so wonderful? Characterization is very important to me, and I've rarely encountered characters I believe in and care about as much as the cast of tGBHF. On this reading I liked the narrator, Umeed / Rai, rather less than previously, but treating him as unreliable and reconstructing the story between the lines of his rather selfish viewpoint makes the book even more fun. The plot is twisty and complicated and clever and enjoyable throughout its wide range of different topics and scenarios, all of which are tied together in a brilliantly satisfying whole. It's full of verbal fireworks, with something quotable on almost every page, as well as joyful linguistic games and more allusions to the whole literary canon of the world than it would seem possible to fit into one book, (and there's an in-character reason for the style it's written in, too).

tGBHF has many of the qualities of the best speculative fiction and is simultaneously an intensely literary book, but it's literally in a class of its own, it's just outside genre (and that's counting litfic / mimetic as a genre). It's almost impossible to summarize what it's about: India, and rock music, and celebrity, and a fantastically complex but deeply romantic love story (I love the way that relationships are portrayed without the standard isolation of the central pair from everyone else that characterizes a lot of romance; the people in tGBHF are realistically interconnected to an extent that almost never happens in literature), and a character story for the Rai, and a reworking of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, and a literary exploration of the big philosophical questions, and a biting satire of 1990s geopolitics. The last part may explain its lack of success; it's very much a book of its time (for example, the death of Princess Diana is an important, if thinly disguised, theme), and perhaps just too cutting edge Zeitgeisty to last. It pulls off the alternate history trick with metafictional elements that fails so spectacularly in Mary Gentle's Ash.

I realized reading it that the comparison with The Armageddon Rag is not only one of quality; they are thematically amazingly similar, even down to a climactic scene where a mega-celebrity rock group plays a reunion tour starring a lookalike of their dead lead singer and the incipient violence is dramatically defused. tGBHF is not quite as word-perfect as The Armageddon Rag, but it's not far off and it's a rather more complex and ambitious book.

I think the final few chapters are slightly weaker than the main bulk of the book; it would probably have been closer to artistic perfection if it had simply closed the loop from the opening scence with Vina's death, flashing back over her entire lifetime and bringing the story around to her death again, this time with the readers having far more information. The several chapters discussing her Diana-like apotheosis and the grief and eventual recovery of Ormus and Rai, as well as resolving the many worlds stuff hinted at earlier, are a long way from being bad, just marginally less wonderful than the preceding sections. They do have the advantage of providing some kind of hope rather than leaving the book with an absolutely tragic ending, though ironically there is considerable discussion within the narrative itself of how most modern versions of Orpheus ruin the impact by giving it a happy ending!

Given how much I love the book, and given its extreme lack of commercial success meaning that it is very hard to find copies, I am extremely annoyed that I managed to lose my copy in the chaos of the BM class video evening yesterday. I went back to the Jewish centre today to see if I could recover it, but no luck. This not only means I don't have it any more, it means I can't lend it to the people I really want to convince to read it. compilerbitch, for example: it's a book about rock music narrated by a photographer, and from what I know of your tastes I'm fairly certain you'd love it.


Moooood: impressedawed
Tuuuuune: Metallica: Nothing else matters
Discussion: 7 contributions | Contribute something
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wychwood: B5 - G'Kar transition / revelation
From:wychwood
Date:June 5th, 2007 09:51 pm (UTC)
54 minutes after journal entry
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I could pick you up another copy (or three!) very easily if you wanted - I got mine from BookMooch, and there are still at least five copies available there. And I have plenty of mooching points still.
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livredor: livre d'or
From:livredor
Date:June 6th, 2007 07:54 pm (UTC)
22 hours after journal entry, 08:54 pm (livredor's time)
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Thanks, that's a very kind offer. And the fact that the book is on Bookmooch is encouraging in the sense that it's not completely obscure.

The trouble is the postage; I haven't joined Bookmooch here mainly because postage is prohibitively expensive in Sweden (like, it costs about 2/3 the cover price of a new book to post a second-hand book, which makes the service rather pointless). Now it's cheaper to send a book from the UK to here than vice versa, but it still seems inefficient for you to acquire the book for me.

I'm quite tempted to use the excuse of losing the book to go on a book-buying spree on Amazon or some other online book shop. I'm running out of books anyway, so if I can get a fairly large order and have them all shipped together, I can feel like I'm cutting down on shipping costs, buy books I've been meaning to read but which don't show up second-hand, and replace The ground beneath her feet as part of that exercise.
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wychwood: gen - stacks of books
From:wychwood
Date:June 6th, 2007 08:43 pm (UTC)
23 hours after journal entry
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Ouch, that *is* expensive. So far I've not found costs too bad for sending books, which is why I didn't mind offering - to the US is usually a couple of quid, which when a new book is £7 or £8, always assuming you can find it...

But, you know, any excuse for book-buying sprees is a good one! Just - if you can't get it any other way, there are copies floating around second-hand, which is useful to know, as you say.
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(no subject) - monanotlisa (6/5/07 10:24 pm)
lisekit: Rani
From:lisekit
Date:June 6th, 2007 09:53 am (UTC)
12 hours after journal entry
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I actually adore Midnight's Children, and in a former life taught it to several groups of undergraduates. I have met the odd couple of people who didn't like it, but not many. Can I ask what you found offputting?

I do enjoy The Satanic Verses, but some people don't get on with it so well. It's a bit of a Derren Brown novel - deception is part of the fabric of the work. I find that stimulating, but some readers find it confusing (and some, of course, find it offensive).

The most divisive book I ever taught was Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things. Year after year, there was an almost exact 50/50 split down the class, and year after year the split was completely polar - either love or hate, nothing in between. I was always a hater, myself. What wasn't (poorly) ripped off Rushdie was just badly-formulated, pretentious twaddle, with the added gimmick of a non-linear timeline, I thought. But some people love it.
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livredor: livre d'or
From:livredor
Date:June 6th, 2007 08:06 pm (UTC)
23 hours after journal entry, 09:06 pm (livredor's time)

_Midnight's children_

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I didn't precisely dislike Midnight's children, I just found it confusing. There were lots of elements that I enjoyed, but the frustration of just not understanding what was going on prevented me from getting into the book properly. I think it's partly the magic realism, because I've had similar reactions to One hundred years of solitude and Desolation Road. There was a lot that just made me think, this is weird / this is silly and I just didn't get the point.

I think it doesn't help that the most recent time I tried to reread it, I was reading it aloud to Screwy when he was in hospital. That meant my reading was very fragmented, missing bits when I was away from the hospital and someone else was reading. Not to mention that I was more occupied with stressing about my brother's condition and my own really horrendous asthma than actually concentrating on the book.

I enjoyed The God of Small Things. I don't think it's in Rushdie's league, but for my tastes the lush, prententious language was good enough to be enjoyable. It's a bit id vortex-ish, rather melodramatic and more of an emotional or sensual pleasure than a cerebral one. I should think it doesn't hold up very well to being studied in a literature course, though.
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lisekit: Indie
From:lisekit
Date:June 7th, 2007 08:02 am (UTC)
1 days after journal entry

Re: _Midnight's children_

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I guess you're either into Magic Realism or you're not - I tend to like this kind of play myself, although I know plenty of people who dislike being unsettled by it. Like other novels in the genre, Midnight's Children combines magic realism with a level of political satire, and it dos help to have a rough idea about the social and historical situations the novel refers to as well. Though, I think, that's not essential to enjoy the work.

I remember people reporting back from readings of TGBHF and saying it soudned amazing, but I had a leaf through the serialisation in one of the papers - The Independent, maybe? - and wasn't moved to go and get a copy. Maybe I'll find one now!
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