The Magazine

Does Rushdie Matter?

Celebrity is the enemy of the artist.

Oct 31, 2005, Vol. 11, No. 07 • By RANDY BOYAGODA
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Rather than venture anything resembling a thoughtful response, the novel churns on, and Rushdie's attempts at all-inclusive relevance grow worse, culminating in a ludicrous denouement. Rushdie sets Shalimar's murderous act to coincide, roughly, with the Rodney King riots. Apparently, this concurrence offers yet further proof that "Everywhere was a mirror of everywhere else. Executions, police brutality, explosions, riots: Los Angeles was beginning to look like wartime Strasbourg; like Kashmir." In writing a global village aria to victimhood, Rushdie strips bare what little intellectual nuance and historical substance the novel had to begin with. Moreover, the chaotic Angelino cityscape inspires some monumentally bad prose: "L.A was a flame-grilled Whopper that night." This sentence, in short, spells the end of Salman Rushdie's career as a pop culture-savvy, postmodern ironist.

Rushdie has elsewhere proposed that "a book is not justified by its author's worthiness to write it, but by the quality of what has been written." Measured against his own dispassionate criteria, Shalimar the Clown is spectacularly unjustifiable. The world used to take notice of a new Salman Rushdie novel, and often with good reason. His latest, however, is cause for neither concern nor excitement. He has written a big bland airplane novel that labors across time-zones, its effects turbulent and tiring.

Randy Boyagoda is a fellow at the Erasmus Institute at Notre Dame.