Wednesday, 14 March 2018

The Golden House by Salman Rushdie

Review by JJ Marsh

What we thought:

Where do I start? This is huge. Not only a broad range of geopolitical considerations, but stuffed with thematic issues and dense with cultural references. If this were a cake, you’d pour brandy on it and set it on fire.

In the historic New York district of The Gardens, a stranger moves in. He seems to have no past and has reinvented himself and his three sons. Nero Golden is a powerful, rich widower, who has adopted Roman monikers for himself and his family.

Against a backdrop of an America electing its first black president, there is a sense of “Yes, we can!” both in the country and this particular family.

The reader gains a unique insight as to how the Goldens (mal)function from their neighbour/friend Rene, orphan, documentary-maker and narrator of this tale. Tragedy in the classical sense alters the fate of the Golden boys while Rene falls victims to cynical manipulation, binding him inextricably to the figure of Nero.

Then a new election looms and this time the front runner is The Joker, a super villain who can work a crowd. Does Batwoman have a chance against such a highly coloured, grinning, bouffant showman?

Rushdie is in his element, cramming in fruity phrases and toothsome allusions, tackling identity, freedom of speech, the American Dream, globalisation, image and delusions of how much control anyone has over their destiny.

Commenting on his Booker of Bookers prizewinner Midnight’s Children, Rushdie said he could not use the cool English of Forster because India was hot. He needed to use language in a way that reflected that. In The Golden House, he has taken the US and the whimsical mood of social media and concocted a rich reflection of itself. A portrait you might put up on Instagram, revealing far more than you realise.

You’ll enjoy this if you liked: A Bonfire of the Vanities, Midnight’s Children

Avoid if you don’t like: Epic sagas with contemporary references, a sense of tragedy which will come for you too

Ideal accompaniments: A litre of mineral water and an eight-hour flight east

Genre: Literary fiction

Available on Amazon

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