Suffice it to say I was delighted to discover that Rushdie's new novel was set in my destination of New York, having struggled and failed to finish my previous NY choice, 'A Little Life' by Hanya Yanagihara (hailed a modern classic by many, it left me cold). Rushdie's opus 'Midnight's Children' remains and, I believe, will remain a classic of modern magic-realist literature and if 'The Golden House' doesn't quite match its scope and vision it is still a wonderful novel. Flawed, but wonderful. For the most part I concur with the publisher's exuberant spiel:
"When powerful real-estate tycoon Nero Golden immigrates to the States under mysterious circumstances, he and his three adult children assume new identities, taking 'Roman' names, and move into a grand mansion in downtown Manhattan. Arriving shortly after the inauguration of Barack Obama, he and his sons, each extraordinary in his own right, quickly establish themselves at the apex of New York society.
"The story of the powerful Golden family is told from the point of view of their Manhattanite neighbour and confidant, René, an aspiring filmmaker who finds in the Goldens the perfect subject. René chronicles the undoing of the house of Golden: the high life of money, of art and fashion, a sibling quarrel, an unexpected metamorphosis, the arrival of a beautiful woman, betrayal and murder, and far away, in their abandoned homeland, some decent intelligence work.
"Invoking literature, pop culture, and the cinema, Rushdie spins the story of the American zeitgeist over the last eight years, hitting every beat: the rise of the birther movement, the Tea Party, Gamergate and identity politics; the backlash against political correctness; the ascendency of the superhero movie, and, of course, the insurgence of a ruthlessly ambitious, narcissistic, media-savvy villain wearing make-up and with coloured hair.
"In a new world order of alternative truths, Salman Rushdie has written the ultimate novel about identity, truth, terror and lies. A brilliant, heartbreaking realist novel that is not only uncannily prescient but shows one of the world’s greatest storytellers working at the height of his powers".
To address the plot further is to give the game away, although, to be honest, the key denouements are - purposely? - signposted pretty obviously and early on, and when they come, along with a rather awkward tying up of loose ends, in part three they are rather laboured. As a reader I kept thinking, especially during Nero's final confessional monologue, 'yes, I know, I get it, now move on'. Ultimately the book does move on and whilst certain loose ends are tied up, others are left hanging...'was Nero's being poisoned by his scheming wife?' for instance.
In the end the conclusion is rather too pat, almost wilfully artificial. Rushdie portrays it in the form of a film script playing out told to us by the author/narrator/protagonist/film-maker, is this simply another magic-realist breaking down of the fourth wall, or an intentional admission by Rushdie of the inadequacy of art in truly portraying reality...? Either way, the third part, in which Rushdie himself seems a little unsure of what to do with the Golden world he has created, is sole reason for its 4 rather than 5 star rating.
And make no mistake, this is a wonderful book, flitting effortlessly between the idiosyncratic characters - many of whom inhabit the communal gardens of the various neighbouring gardens (think 'Rear Window') - to twenty-first issues such a gender identity, mental health and a certain character with white made up face and ridiculous hair, a Joker who is no joke about to take the highest office in the land. Step forward a thinly disguised Donald Trump.
And the Golden's themselves, embodying America, and particularly New York, in their very foreignness as immigrants - quickly accepted through wealth - as blank canvasses with a history, as carefully drawn enigmas each with their issues: autism, gender confusion, depression and - in the case of Nero - deep-seated and repressed guilt on many levels... ultimately the title is fitting - The Golden House itself, and its gardens, is almost a character itself, in and around which people live, love, hate, die, work, are born, scheme, regret and celebrate. A perfect metaphor for both New York, New York and the country as a whole...
I do manage some sleep - the coach is half full and there's plenty of room to stretch out - and the toilets are clean at least, although the driver also makes a couple of pit stops along the way. All in all, without the hassle, cost, and boarding shenegans of a flight, I'd do the trip again. So I arrive, a little bleary-eyed but rested, at Stephanie Tubbs Jones Transit Center in the city of Cleveland, in the state of Ohio, county seat of Cuyahoga County, in the American Midwest.
No cowboys in my next book "Cherry: A Novel" a semi-autobiographical work by Nico Walker; but plenty of twenty-first century desperadoes, crime, fighting, drugs and guns (of the US Army issue type). There's even a few bank robberies thrown in for good measure (Walker wrote the novel from prison where he is serving time for this misdemeanour). Sounds interesting....