Shalimar the Clown
Salman Rushdie

This book appears to be about Kashmir and so of course runs into that eternal Rushdie question, ‘How autobiographical is it?’ And as usual, the answer is ‘Not at all.’ As someone else has put it (gotta love that attribution) this is as much about Kashmir as ‘The Satanic Verses’ is about Islam.

Instead, ‘Shalimar the Clown’ is about, well, Shalimar the Clown. This is a book in four parts all revolving around one central character, and his doomed love for a beautiful woman. And even though one part of this book is nominally told from his perspective, this character remains an enigma right to the last line of the last page. He is never truly revealed to you, and you never truly know him. Why does he cause so much pain? Does he feel pain himself? This is certainly not sloppy writing. How well can you ever know another person? How well can you know yourself?

On a mechanical note, the first part of this book was the hardest to get through, at least for me. It starts at the end, presenting you with disconnected characters and no explanations for their distance. Fortunately, this part is only forty pages. The book then dives back into the past and builds the motivation, making you believe. While all the time concealing the true motivation apparently at the heart of everything. But then after all, aren’t we just a function of our past experiences? Are their truly any motivations beyond what has already happened to us?

Well! Overall, a very good book. Some of my friends have described Rushdie as a bit pretentious, and yes, I can see that. But, my criteria for a good book (or movie) is simply ‘Does it keep me thinking once I’ve finished?’ And on that standard this book passes. Although, ‘The Moor’s Last Sigh’ is still my favourite of his.

Oh, and the Kashmir thing? My opinion is he writes in a setting he knows, and that is always subservient to what the book is ‘about.’ In this case a very significant percentage of his readers could never know the Kashmir he writes of. It is probably lost forever, just like the mind of Shalimar the Clown.