Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie

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Winner of the Booker Prize 1981.

Midnight’s Children tells the story of Saleem Sinai; born at midnight on the day of India’s Independence, he realises that it isn’t just the time of his birth which singles him out from other people. Saleem discovers  that all children born between midnight and 1am on this momentous day posses special powers of one form or another. As Saleem was born at midnight, the exact time of Independence, his are stronger than the others. Saleem is able to enter the minds of others, and so brings them all together through meetings in his mind. Describing the plot for this book is very hard, as there are so many tangents and subplots, and I don’t want to give too much away, but the book is much more complex than I can summarise here. It contains many different themes, including the politics, fairy tales and history of India. The BBC launched a competition to summarize the plot in 67 words, some of them were quite good – you can see the best here.

I had a love – hate relationship with this book. For the majority of the time I felt I was battling against the words. The shortage of paragraphs and speech to break up the text meant that it was very dense, and I felt myself becoming lost in all the words. It took an enormous amount of concentration, and often a postcard under each line, just so I could keep track of where I was. Occasionally, the writing would absorb me, and for a few pages I would become completely immersed in the story. It was a very strange experience, as normally I find the writing in a book consistent, but the randomness of how much each page appealed to me was really bizarre.

There were certain aspects of this book which I loved. One of the most interesting sections told of how when alcohol was banned in Bombay, people could obtain small quantities from their doctor if they registered themselves as being an alcoholic. This led to many people claiming to be alcoholics, just so they could have some to drink. It was insights into Indian life like this that I loved reading. Everyday life for people in other cultures fascinates me. I don’t need magic tricks or the ability to fly to make someone special in my eyes.

This book is packed with magical realism, something which I find hard to appreciate. I need to be able to connect with the characters, something which I find very hard to do if they are capable of performing impossible acts, and the plot veers off on weird tangents. One of the other things that I didn’t like was that the narrator begins his story before his birth. He describes events he has never witnessed, and ones he claims to remember while he was just a tiny baby. I know this is just another aspect of magical realism, but for some reason it really bothered me.

The book is filled with symbolism, most of which went over my head. I think this book needs several readings, and probably detailed studying in order to fully appreciate it. I have found this free Spark Notes study guide here, and so will try to read through it, to pick up on a few of the points which I’m sure I missed.

The main problem with this book is that the story line is not linear; it jumps around, and is very difficult to follow at times. The plot is so bizarre in places that I didn’t really understand what was going on, until I read the study guide above!

Overall, I’d recommend this to people who love literary fiction, especially those who love symbolism. I’m pleased that I read it, but it wasn’t  an entirely enjoyable experience for me.

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Have you read Midnight’s Children? If so, did you enjoy it?

Are you a fan of magical realism?

Would you enjoy a book where a week old baby is explaining what is happening around him?


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25 Comments

  1. claire says:

    I’m an absolute magical realism fan and I loved this book. I can see why you’d be bothered with Saleem talking about events he never witnessed. I have a friend who just loathes non-linear plots. On the other hand, for me, because the writing was that good, it never became an issue. But it’s just me, who even loved Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh, which is, I think, even more dense than this, he he.

  2. Sandy says:

    I guess I don’t have issues with non-linear, depending on the prose. As much as it would be great to have this feather in my cap, I’m not sure I’m patient enough to plow through it. I’m interested to find out if Simon got through it!

  3. jo says:

    I intended to read this this weekend too, but I had an impromptu visit from my sister and her children, so didn’t even start it. It wasn’t conducive to heavy reading with 4 children running round the place. It does sound like an interesting read though,if a bit difficult.

  4. Nicole says:

    I haven’t read this one, but I started reading The Satanic verses and I could say many of the same things that you said here about that book as well. Parts were so interesting and compelling that I could barely put it down and then sometimes I was completely lost. I think I might have put it down in one of the lost sections and never finished it. I was never really certain of what was going on. And there was magical realism in that too.

    I’m nit sure how I do with magical realism. I have a feeling that it has kept e from being able to finish any of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, so it surprised me that I liked Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett because I feel like it was in that vein.

  5. Jackie says:

    Claire – I can see why people love this book. There is clearly a lot to be gained from it if you are willing to put the effort into reading it. I’m sure I’ll attempt another Rushdie book one day, but I think I’ll give my poor brain a bit of a rest and read something a bit less taxing for a few weeks!

    Sandy – I don’t mind non-linear books normally. I think it was just that I this book mixes the plot with so many other parts, that it was even more confusing than normal. I’m interested to read Simon’s opinion too!

    Jo – Sorry you couldn’t manage to read it this weekend – I agree it is not something to attempt with 4 children running round! I hope you get some quiet time soon to be able to fit it in.

    Nicole – I haven’t read any of the books you mention, but all are in the TBR pile somewhere. I wasn’t aware that Bel Canto has magical realism in. I hope that I like it too.

  6. Rebecca Reid says:

    I didn’t know anything about this book, but it sounds fascinating! I always struggle with magical realism,; I tend to like plain old realism more. And yet, this is tempting me. Thanks for the review!

  7. Jackie says:

    Rebecca – Plain old realism works much better for me too!

  8. Steph says:

    First, this was a wonderful review! Very thoughtful and balanced! I personally love magical realism – for me, it takes the ordinary and heightens it to something extraordinary, which I just love. I feel like I’m really kept on my toes reading MR fiction, as you never know what might happen next. That being said, I’ve never read this one (I’ve only read one other Rushdie, which I actually liked quite a bit), although I do want to! I’ve just always been a bit intimidated because I’ve built up this impression it’s a demanding read. It’s definitely on my list of books to one day read, though!

  9. Jackie says:

    Hi Steph – Thank you for commenting on my blog for the first time! It is really nice to hear that you like my review. This is a demanding read, not because the words are difficult to understand (they aren’t) but because it is trying to say so much more than a straight forward story. There are many layers which need deciphering, and so you need to put in quite a bit of work to understand the full meaning. If you like MR then I’m sure you’ll love this!

  10. I enjoy magical realism….huh, maybe then I’d like this. I am trying hard not to drool over the cover!!! thanks for your review.

  11. Beth F says:

    I haven’t tackled Rushdie yet. After English Patient, it will be a while!

  12. I love Rushdie and I liked this book. I can’t say I loved it and your description of the reading experience is spot on. If you have not read his other stuff it is much easier to read. The Satanic Verses is hilarious. But then I am a fan of Magical Realism.

  13. Jackie says:

    Bethany – I love the cover too, although I’m not sure what it really has to do with the book. I suppose they are Indian spices, but I could think of more relevant things for a cover.

    Beth – I know exactly what you mean! It will be a while I before I tackle The English Patient for the same reason!

    Candy – It is good to know that Midnight’s Children is the hardest to read. It makes me a lot let nervous about picking them up – I think I’ll still leave it a while before I do though!

  14. Karen says:

    I agree with Steph – a fantastic review! I tried to read this one last year and ended up giving up – it was just too much for me! I was trying so hard to concentrate and get into the story that it turned into hard work rather than enjoyment. I always feel a little bad giving up on books that I might actually like but just find too difficult to read – I think I should hang in there and work a bit harder!

  15. cbjames says:

    I can answer yes to all three of your questions. I don’t seek out magical realism but I’ve enjoyed many books that feature it, Midnight’s Children among them. Midnight’s Children has much to offer if you re-read it, which I have. I don’t mind becoming lost at all, I expect confusion to be a part of reading, but reading it a second time gives you the chance to enjoy much of the stuff you miss the first time around. I intend to read it a third time someday, Maybe when I turn 50, since that was such an important even in the book, if I remember it right.

    I’ve read a couple of books narrated by “babies.” The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass is one of my favorites. I’m also reading Tristram Shandy by Lawrence Sterne and all of it takes place before the narrator is actually born.

  16. raidergirl3 says:

    I still plan to read this some day, but I expect I would feel the same way. You’ve expressed yourself very well, and I know exactly what you mean, because I’ve read other books like that – dense, lots of symbols, which makes me confused, but enough ‘other’ stuff to keep me going.
    thanks for the reivew.

  17. softdrink says:

    I gave up on The Enchantress of Florence for one of the exact reasons you mentioned…battling the words. Rushdie is way to verbose and flowery for my taste. And the run-on sentences…ack!!

  18. Matthew says:

    I usually do not have problem with a non-linear plot but Midnight’s Children just didn’t capture me. The language is magical realism, and I have found myself reading the passage over and over again. Words are swimming in my vision but don’t seem to convey a thought. I stopped and the book went back to the end of the line.

  19. Jackie says:

    It’s great to hear that I am not alone in my thoughts on this book. For some reason I thought that many of you were much more into this sort of thing than me, so it has brightened my day to know that I achieved something just by completing it! I’m off to read something a little more easy on the mind!!

  20. Simon S says:

    I am back hoorah! Lol! I have to say am 350 pages into this now (as am very behind in my reading) but I am completely loving the book and have been fully taken in and oddly for me – I like the surrealism. I wasnt expecting to like this book and I do… mind you I still have 250 pages to go.

  21. Nymeth says:

    Like Claire, I’m a big fan of magic realism and fantasy in general, and I know that really helped me appreciate this book. I understand why a reader who’s put off by that would fail to connect with the story.

  22. Simon – Great to see you back! I look forward to hearing your thoughts when you’ve finished.

    Nymeth – I’m pleased you enjoyed it. I’m always amazed at the broad range of books you enjoy. It is a big loss to me that I can’t appreciate things like this as much as I should.

  23. Peter says:

    I like the link to the plot summaries that you added. Thanks.

  24. Jackie says:

    Peter – Thank you for taking the time to comment on my blog for the first time! I’m pleased you found the link useful.

  25. I just finished reading this, and was actually quite impressed by it. Yup, agree with you about battling the words, and having a tough time because of Rushdie’s convoluted writing style. However, the book was a curious mix of fantasy and reality, which, really appealed to me.

    That’s my review. :)

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