The Golden House, the thirteenth novel by Sir Salman Rushdie, is yet another fable of dark, twisting realities, profuse with tales of love and loss sprinkled with a bit of the zeitgeist of present day America. It is a plethora of film noir, of Greek mythology, of crime capers and of mad Roman rulers. Rushdie delivers wonderfully as is expected from him by now – poetical prose, peppered with quirkiness and just a bit of black humor.
The plot follows closely the lives of the Goldens through the eyes of their resident spy / neighbor / filmmaker René. Set against the backdrop of the Obama era years, from his first inauguration up to the election that brought Trump to power, we see their lives transmogrify, from glory to defeat, from identity crisis to death, from omnipotence to feebleness and from naivety to realizing the immorality within.
The novel begins with the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States and the arrival of the Goldens in Gardens, a secluded Eden in Manhattan. Nero Golden, his three sons, Petronius, or Petya, Lucius Apuleius, or Apu and Dionysius, or D. These were the names they picked for themselves when fleeing a personal tragedy from a country that could not be named (but could be guessed, easily). The names itself are haughty and powerful and speak of richness and authority . The Goldens in their golden house – honest to the point of vulgarity. Everything is grand and glittery. (Almost) Everyone is larger than life. The parties are the classiest, the people are the crème de la crème; even the ladies of the night are classy in their own way. It echoes slightly of The Great Gatsby, though there’s no Daisy and no Nick Carraway. (We do have René, but he’s no Nick).
The sons aren’t content with just changing their names, however. Petya struggles with overcoming agoraphobia and invents immensely successful computer games; Apu finds his artistic side and turns out to be really good at what he does; and D goes on a journey of gender identity and self-realization. To add a sense of fatality, in walks a scheming Russian beauty, making the cast complete. And we have René, our young, innocent, sheltered dreamer who despite the best of his intentions gets irrevocably tangled up in his subject matter. The method of his entanglement was the one thing that I found sorely disappointing. It was as cliche as it gets, something so mundane and common that to find it within the pages of The Golden House was absurd.
There’s a mystery about the departure of the Goldens which even though was supposed to be a huge plot reveal, didn’t feel like so because of the constant foreshadowing. But it isn’t the plot here that is the hero, though it does have its sublime moments. Just as well because magicians like Rushdie aren’t known for their plots, but for their way with words. Its the words that delight us, “intelligently amuse” us, and even when the world within the Gardens erupts, and plunges us into despair – its the words that are our savior. The suicide letter of one tormented character, the resignation letter of another have the capability of moving us much more than hundreds of other novels.
“I need to think and the city is full of noise.”
I cannot think of a more perfect quote that reduces our lives to nothing but a quest for inner peace. Its amazing how Rushdie lets his words flow so smoothly from the lyrical to the practical, throughout these 380 pages.
Some of the best passages in the book, however, are not about the Goldens or René . They are about the city that can not be named, with its imposing hotel that cannot be named, within which thrive the beautiful unknown people that somehow seem more real than other characters in the novel. They are about the Joker (real name Gary “Green” Gwynplaine, based on Donald Trump) in the White House, the one whose very presence in the power seat of America shows us the truth of this country. They are about a country being torn apart by its own treachery.
“America’s secret identity wasn’t a superhero. Turns out it was a super villain.”
Never have truer words been written before.
Think of this not as a novel but as a journey with a nihilistic destination.
*Disclaimer: I got this book as part of Flipkart Blogger Review Program. All opinions expressed are my own.