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I might actually read Salman Rushdie’s latest book

I’ve just discovered, while reading a Guardian piece about and against censorship by Nick Cohen, that Salman Rushdie has just published an autobiographical work about what his life has been like for the last decade or so, while being subjected to the calculatedly frenzied threats of the Islamist hordes following the publication of The Satanic Verses.

I have never regretted for a single second purchasing my copy of The Satanic Verses, and I still have it. But like many others who voted thus with their wallets, I soon gave up with actually reading the thing.

Joseph Anton, on the other hand, looks like it might be quite a page turner. As a general rule I far prefer reading autobiographies by award-winning literary novelists to reading their award-winning literary novels. Whether I enjoy reading Joseph Anton or not, I won’t regret buying that either. Which I just did.

I have yet to discover why it is called Joseph Anton, but I’ll find out soon enough. And … I just did. While inserting that “page turner” link above, I found myself reading this:

Rushdie’s new memoir, Joseph Anton: A Memoir, takes its title from the name he used while in hiding – which was a combination of the first names of two of his favourite writers, Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov.

So there we are.

Bloody hell, I also just found out: 656 pages! That’s a lot of pages to be turning. Maybe just bits of it, eh?

15 comments to I might actually read Salman Rushdie’s latest book

  • Thanks Michael.

    I love this bit:

    “I’m sorry,” he replied. “I’m here for my friend’s memorial service. It’s not appropriate to do interviews.”
    “You don’t understand,” the gray fellow said, sounding puzzled. “I’m from the Daily Telegraph. They’ve sent me down specially.”
    “Gillon, I need your help,” he said.
    Gillon leaned down toward the reporter from his immense height and said, firmly, and in his grandest accent, “Fuck off.”
    “You can’t talk to me like that,” the man from the Telegraph said. “I’ve been to public school.”

    The old school media in all their arrogance.

  • chuck

    I managed to finish Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories, but have been unable to read more than a couple of pages of his more famous books without nodding off. Life is too short. Let us know how Joseph Anton goes.

  • chuck

    “You can’t talk to me like that,” the man from the Telegraph said. “I’ve been to public school.”

    Is this creditable? It sounds made up to me and serves to put down of the once conservative Telegraph. I have a suspicion that Rushdie prefers the Guardian 😉 But I’m not English and can’t judge whether or not one would claim a public school education in response to being told to fuck off.

  • RAB

    It’s written in the third person, and it makes my toes curl.

  • chuck

    I think you may be right.

    The use of the third person rather than the first suggests further to me that Rushdie may have written something he sees as being half way between a truly accurate autobiography and a made up story. The word “memoir” reinforces that feeling, for me. What he merely remembers, rather than what he remembers accurately.

    Not a good sign, as far as I am concerned.

    I still think that the more this gets talked about the better. No matter how dreary a writer Rushdie may be, the mad Mullahs should get it up em.

    What I am hoping is that the book is such a cunningly crafted attack on them that the Mullahs regret ever having tangled with the guy. Which is a lot to hope for.

  • Writing about yourself can be hard. If writing in the third person makes it easier, that’s okay, although it is a little strange at first. I am more put off by the length of the book, although I enjoyed reading that extract.

  • Dave Walker

    It’s also this week’s Book of the Week on Radio 4, if you’d prefer to listen to an abridged version. I’ve caught the first couple of episodes – strikes me as a bit pretentious, but that’s just my view.

  • Richard Thomas

    Last decade? More like two. Yet another thing to make me feel old.

  • RAB

    Writing about yourself can be hard. If writing in the third person makes it easier, that’s okay, although it is a little strange at first.

    No writing about yourself isn’t hard, it’s honest. Oh yes you embroider, embellish and polish an anecdote or story, but you don’t pretend that your tale is being told by some outside observer who is impartially witnessing the scenes. That is dishonest.

    I get at least half a dozen round robins at Xmas time from friends who have not bothered to contact me in any way in the last twelve months, all in the third person, as if someone else is narrating their life. This is lazy and dishonest.

    As to Rushdie, I couldn’t care less, apart from the freedom of speech issue.

    I haven’t read any of his stuff and neither did any of the folks who fervently wanted to kill him for something they were told by someone else, he wrote. So what is the problem? Er well you see…

  • MakajazMonkee

    Really? I thought the satanic Verses was awesome. Up there with Tom Robbins “Even cowgirls get the blues”.

  • No, RAB, I don’t agree at all. You are honest if you tell the truth. You can do that in either the first or third person, just as you can lie in either the first or third person. (A great many first person memoirs are packs of lies, certainly). I think the third person style Rushdie has chosen has a certain possibly offputting pomposity about it, but I don’t think it necessarily implies a lack of honesty.

    I have encountered other people who have reacted to Rushdie’s writing the way Chuck did, too, ie they found Haroun and the Sea of Stories – supposedly a book for children – to be quite enjoyable, but found the more famous, supposedly more serious stuff to be a bit pompous and opaque. I am still interested to see if this new book is any good. Rushdie is in the strange position in which his own autobiographical story is by far the best material for a book he has ever found himself with. He clearly doesn’t like this – he says up front that he would much rather be an author remembered for his books than his life, and this dislike of it might be another explanation for the choice of writing it in the third person. It’s also likely that he has been paid a larger advance for this book than he is likely to get for a fiction novel, as many people are rather more interested in reading his own story than are likely to be interested in reading another novel.

    I think I agree with the earlier commenters that the “You can’t talk to me like this – I went to a public school” line is unlikely to have been uttered in real life (although one never knows – people say all kinds of weird shit in real life). The story sounds true up to the “Fuck off” part, though.

  • Bruce Rheinstein

    Absent the fatwa, how many people would read, or more realistically would claim to have read, any of Rushdie’s books? It’s like “Banned in Boston” on steroids.

  • llamas

    I’ve found his novels to be turgid, incomprehensible dreck. A few pages was all I could ever manage.

    By contrast, the limited excerpts of this book apear to be quite readable. Maybe the threat of death has taught him how write better. Silver lining and all that . . . .



  • Laird

    I agree with llamas that the New Yorker excerpts are quite readable. Unfortunately, like RAB, that third-person affectation makes my toes curl. So I doubt that I’ll be reading the whole thing. Pomposity shouldn’t be rewarded.