Book Review: Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

I finally finished reading Midnight’s Children. It had been on my reading list for a while, as it’s on the Big Read Top 100 (just, it’s at #100), plus it’s on my list of 100 books you should read. I’d put off reading it, because

  1. It’s a Booker winner. Three times: originally in 1981, and twice it’s been nominated the best of Booker. Booker is often a sign that a book will be hard work, and often also that I won’t enjoy it. And also:
  2. I don’t know anyone who’s finished it, but had comments from a number of people who’d given up on it.

I felt like giving up a few times, particularly in the middle third of the book, but it was on my list so I stuck with it, and ended up kinda glad that I did.

It tells the story of Saleem Sinai, an Indian boy born at midnight 15th August 1947, exactly the same time as the partition of India and Pakistan. All children born in India in that hour (the midnight’s children of the title) have strange abilities, and the closer to midnight they were born, the stronger their powers. The book is written as the autobiography of Saleem, looking back at the age of 32 on both his life, and the first 32 years of India, taking in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Saleem’s life parallels India’s, and many of India’s major events are also major events in Saleem’s life (in a way that reminded me of Forrest Gump). It’s almost like a history lesson about India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, with the surreal tale of Saleem woven through and around it.

I can imagine some reviewers describing the writing as dense and rich, and while Rushdie is skilled wordcrafter, at times I thought it pretentious. His writing reminded me of John Irving: a similar quirky style; but it also reminded me of Irving’s later books, which I find similarly hard work.

I’m glad that I read it, but is it one of the best 100 novels of all time? Personally, I don’t think so. One of the key questions for me, on my first reading of an author is “does it make me want to read more by this author?”. And for Salman Rushdie, no, it doesn’t.

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