I had hoped to save No.100 of the BBC Top 100 for my last book as it has such a neatness to it but it didn’t quite work out that way. Being over 600 pages long Midnight’s Children counts as one of the 15 long books I am trying to read this year. I had originally intended it to be only books over 700 pages but I buckled. Anyway, I picked up Midnight’s Children as I continue to avoid War and Peace.
The story is narrated by Saleem Sinai who like a thousand others across India was born at the exact hour of India’s independence. He and these other so called “Midnight’s Children” have mysterious and magnificent powers and as the letter to Saleem from the Prime Minister proclaims, there lives shall be a reflection of the new India’s.
As much as I love classics I also love reading books outside of the western tradition and Midnight’s Children is an excellent specimen. I learnt so much about modern Indian history as this book is as much India’s life story and it is Saleem’s. Much like The God of Small Things it is a very stylish book full of evocative language and unconventionally structured. The linguistic style works perfectly to conjure up a world both alien and familiar.
I loved that the narrative told the story of Saleem’s grandparents and parents so that we come to know the journey of the characters that have such an impact on Saleem’s journey. This bigger picture means we see the significance of the smaller details that keep appearing like the silver spittoon and perforated sheets. I enjoyed the theme of recurrence, of things too neat to be a coincidence. It would have been much too neat had I left this book until last, unnervingly so, but the way things turned out has restored my faith in the random nature of the world.
Despite the magical realism of this book it is a very honest depiction of a troubled country. It doesn’t shy away from controversy and upset quite a few politicians I am sure. I liked that about it, the lines between what is real and not real blur at times except the historical events. I don’t know how accurately Rushdie describes them but there was never any doubt in my mind what actually happened and which bits were artistic licence. Yet, he blends the two together so well that I could almost accept the entire book as the truth. Almost.
My only criticism is that it is long. I know I should have guessed that with the 647 pages but there aren’t 647 pages worth of events or characters in this story so there are moments that feel like filler. These parts are well written and enjoyable enough I just couldn’t help thinking when is something going to happen. In these parts, where I found myself drifting off slightly, was usually hidden some small clue as to the events that were yet to come. Had I been paying attention maybe I would have solved a few mysteries a little quicker.
Would recommend to: people who don’t like historical fiction.