The Barnes & Noble Review
Equipped with a virtual sixth sense of observation, a beyond-this-world command of language, and an uncanny ability to zero in on contemporary culture and chronicle all its frivolity and majesty, Salman Rushdie is among our greatest living writers. He is also one of our most prodigious.
Fury, his eighth novel, is a ferocious comedy that combines the writer's masterful storytelling with a commentary on 21st-century American society that packs a rabid pit bull's bite. It is, in a word, brilliant.
Fifty-five-year-old Malik Solanka is having a Dantesque midlife crisis. A former philosophy professor and creator of a popular doll known as "Little Brain," Malik is perched on a crag that overlooks an abyss of violence. He is very close to jumping in. Living in self-imposed exile in Manhattan during the summer of 2000, he has just left his second wife in London after finding himself consumed by thoughts of murder: "actual murder, not the metaphorical kind. He'd even brought a carving knife upstairs and stood for a terrible, dumb minute over the body of his sleeping wife." Like Orestes in the Greek tragedy cycle The Oresteia, Malik is being pursued by furies of his own making, riddled with a deep guilt that goes beyond his fleeting thoughts of bumping off his wife. As he traverses the infernal streets of New York in search of redemption and understanding, he is bombarded by streams of erratic and obscenely comedic stimuli -- cell phones, loud talkers, 24-hour coverage of Elián González, Rudy Giuliani, The Sopranos, designer clothes, fast food experiences that would lead a lab rat to commit suicide. For everyone else in New York, it's just an average day.
Fusing the transience of modern life with the philosophical truths of antiquity, Rushdie elevates American pop culture to the realm of myth -- but it is a myth as saccharine and diaphanous as cotton candy, a myth so capricious that no one can truly find comfort in its allegory. Caustic, intelligent, and sometimes "How the hell did he think of that?" hilarious, Fury is more than just our first great satire of the 21st century, it is a minor masterpiece. (Stephen Bloom)
...Fury contains enough thrillingly fresh writing and ideas to show up most of Rushdie's contemporaries as parochial plodders.... I wrote in The Independent's review of Fury that "I would rather read one page of flawed Rushdie than 1,000 of the soporific pap that often passes for 'literary fiction' in Britain today". Even at his worst, Rushdie will wake you up; even at their best, many of his politer peers will send you fast into a dreamless, idea-free sleep.
The Independent (London)
Malik Solanka is pissed off. On the run in Manhattan from a dried-up career in English academe and ultimately from his boyhood in Bombay, the fifty-five-year-old former professor is maddened by a monstrous midlife crisis. It's not just the comb-over haircut and the midriff bulge; it's a shaking of the soul that both terrifies and entrances the hapless ex-don. As Salman Rushdie writes in his eighth and finest novel, "Fury—sexual, Oedipal, political, magical, brutal—drives us to our finest heights and coarsest depths. Out of furia comes creation, inspiration, originality, passion, but also violence, pain, pure unafraid destruction.... The Furies pursue us; Shiva dances his furious dance to create and also to destroy."
Malik, Rushdie's most developed and engaging protagonist, is the dancer in this existential jig—and his challenge is to not be dashed to pieces in the process. It's a dicey proposition, given that what ails Malik is nothing less than modern life. Shaken one night when he finds himself, knife in hand, hovering over his sleeping wife and child, he flees his past: "[H]e wanted to lose himself because of a fear of what lay beneath, what might bubble up at any moment and lay waste to the undeserving world." Yet while he's mimicking the exit he'd witnessed as a child in India of an august banker who "abandoned his family forever, wearing nothing more than a Gandhian loincloth," Malik seems to be seeking not renunciation but oblivion.
He plunges into New York, a devouring consumer culture "of ever more recherche produce: limited-edition olive oils, three-hundred-dollar corkscrews, customized Humvees, the latest anti-virus software ... " Bankrolling him are theprofits from a bizarre enterprise: In years previous, thirsting for relief from academic aridity, he'd manufactured a meal ticket called Little Brain, a creature "first a doll, later a puppet, then an animated cartoon, and afterward an actress ... a talk-show host, gymnast, ballerina, or supermodel ... " His distaff Frankenstein's shtick is interviewing history's great minds on the BBC; she has become "the Maya Angelou of the doll world" or a Lara Croft with a genius IQ, as well as a rabid fan base. She's made Malik his fortune but underscored his greatest weakness, one that Malik's first wife long ago accused him of: "The world in inanimate miniature is just about all you can handle." The professor's mission, then, is to move from control and manipulation of a woman he made up to real love of a real woman in a large and messy world.
Fury flaunts all of Rushdie's intimidating gifts. There's the fascination with buzzwords, psychobabble and doublespeak from an intellectual who's expert in the language games of postmodern philosophy. There's the conflating of myth and pop culture that he mastered in The Ground Beneath Her Feet, which recast Orpheus and Eurydice as rock superstars. The world's most notorious novelist ever since the Ayatollah Khomeini leveled his fatwa against him for writing The Satanic Verses, Rushdie here meditates provocatively on celebrity and alienation. The most recognized figure in postcolonialist fiction, he equates the world with multicultural chaos, which is exemplified by his own lifestyle (he has residencies in India and Pakistan, London and New York). Alternately a metaphysical thriller and a sci-fi-tinged fantasy, a treatise on gender politics and a farce about academia, the novel teems—as does its hero—with ideas.
Not only is the book smart, it also happens to be Rushdie's most entertaining. There's real comedy in Malik's rants, for instance. Whether decrying Internet obsessives or railing at CNN for broadcasting "all Elian, all the time," Malik can't keep his fury under wraps. (Sipping a latte at a pricey coffee bar, he gets booted from the place for screaming; he hadn't even realized he was "thinking" out loud.) Not since the endearingly misanthropic Ignatius Reilly of John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces has outrage been rendered so hilariously; nor since Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities has urban paranoia been portrayed in such rich detail. And Malik has reason to be paranoid. Among Fury's myriad subplots is a tabloid-ripe murder mystery: Some psycho's been offing (and scalping) the city's "living dolls," the buff, brainy girlfriends of the Big Apple's creepy blue bloods. The media broadcast a composite of a suspect wearing a panama hat, and Malik, it turns out, sports exactly that headgear.
Meanwhile, another kind of death takes place. Just as Shiva destroys to create, Malik must endure the demise of his old self in order to live anew. And as with the Greek heroes, he must pass through trials. In Fury, these tasks are surreal, elaborate and tragicomic: He enacts a psychodrama with a street girl whose childhood hero was Little Brain; he delves into the netherworld of Internet gaming; he's drawn into conflicts in remote Third World locales. All very picaresque, all conspiring to make Fury something a Rushdie novel rarely qualifies as: a real page-turner. What linger after the entertainment are the questions the book raises about nature and artifice, coercion and acceptance, and the transforming value of fury itself.
The sea change has invigorated Rushdie. His new novel is very much an American book, a bitingly satiric, often wildly farcical picture of American society in the first years of the 21st century. The twice transplanted protagonist (Bombay born, Cambridge educated, now Manhattan resident) Prof. Malik Solanka is an unimaginably wealthy man, transformed from a philosophy professor into a BBC-TV star, then into the inventor of a wildly popular doll called Little Brain. Compelled to relinquish control of the doll when it metamorphoses into an industry, the furious Solanka flees London for an apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side. His prose crackling with irony, Rushdie catches roiling undercurrents of incivility and inchoate anger: in cab drivers, moviegoers and sidewalk pedestrians; in ethnic antagonisms; in political confrontations; and in Solly himself, as he tries to surmount his guilt over having abandoned a loving wife and three-year-old son in England, and as he becomes involved with two new women. Rushdie's brilliantly observant portrait of "this money-mad burg" is mercilessly au courant, with references to George Gush and Al Bore, to Elian and Tony Soprano, and to "shawls made from the chin fluff of extinct mountain goats." The action is helter-skelter fast and refreshingly concise; this is a slender book for Rushdie, and his relatively narrow focus results in a crisper narrative; there are fewer puns and a deeper emotional involvement with his characters. Still, his tendency to go over the top leads to some incredulity for the reader; it's a bit much that short, unprepossessing Solly is a magnet for gorgeous, articulate women, who all tend to speak in the same didactic monologues.On the whole, however, readers will nod in acknowledgement of Rushdie's recognition that "the whole world was burning on a shorter fuse." Rushdie remains a master of satire that rings true with unsettling acuity and dark, comedic brilliance. Agent, Andrew Wylie. 8-city author tour. (Sept. 11) Forecast: Rushdie has never been so sharply observant of the American psyche and the contemporary scene, and thus so relevant to U.S. readers. His increasing visibility after the isolation of the fatwa years should create a buzz of interest in this novel. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Rushdie's eighth novel, which was commissioned for a recent literary festival held in The Netherlands, is an intensely personal and surpassingly odd performance that bears only incidental resemblance to his recent successes (The Ground Beneath Her Feet). Protagonist Malik Solanka is a 50ish "retired historian of ideas" who's living in contemporary Manhattan, having left his American (second) wife and young son in London. Malik is wealthy, thanks to profiting obscenely from the commercial success of the "Little Brain" doll, a product spin-off from a popular TV series (also Malik's creation) in which "Great Minds" dolls engaged historical wise men in fictional dialogues. If that sounds like a stretch, wait till you get a load of such thematically burdened secondary characters as Malik's feisty mistress Mila Milo (an activist intellectual out to save the world), his secretive sloe-eyed new love Neela Mahendra, and his friend Jack Rhinehart, a dusky former war correspondent who emulates his obvious model Hemingway in more ways than one. The story's ostensible premise is Malik's wary detente with the "furies "(including the classical personified ones, an uncaught serial killer of young women, and the resentful energies of indigent societies) that he sees all around him. But it's really a framework on which to hang fusillades of commentary on such topical ephemera as the film Gladiator, the newsworthy doings of Elian Gonzalez, Monica Lewinsky, Slobodan Milosevic, Tiger Woods, and others; "George W. Gush's boredom and Al Bore's gush," and anything else that catches Malik's jaundiced eye. It all reads like a slightly more exotic Saul Bellow novel (there are explicit echoes of both Herzog and Mr. Sammler's Planet), with perhaps a soupçon of Philip Roth's angry comedies of waning sexual impulses waxing eloquent. Malik is a very fully realized character, and "Fury "positively vibrates with intellectual energy (it's also frequently quite funny). But it's still more tirade than novel: Rushdie's weakest book since his (justly) forgotten first novel (Grimus).
From the Publisher
"Salman Rushdie’s great grasp of the human tragicomedyits dimensions, its absurdities and horrorshas made him one of the most intelligent fiction writers in the English language."
Gail Caldwell, The Boston Globe
"Fury is a profoundly, ecstatically affirmative work of fiction. It reaffirms Rushdie's standing, in my opinion, at the very front rank of contemporary literary novelists."
Michael Pakenham, Baltimore Sun
"Rushdie's ideasabout society, about culture, about politicsare embedded in his stories and in the interlocking momentum with which he tells them. His reflective power lies in the way his fiction simply unfolds. All of Rushdie's synthesizing energy, the way he brings together ancient myth and old story, contemporary incident and archetypal emotion, transfigures reason into a waking dream."
Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Well, here it is, then, his first 3-D, full-volume American novel, finger-snapping, wildly stupefying, often slyly funny, red-blooded and red-toothed. [Fury] twinkles brightly in tragicomic passages."
The Miami Herald
Read an Excerpt
Professor Malik Solanka, retired historian of ideas, irascible dollmaker, and since his recent fifty-fifth birthday celibate and solitary by his own (much criticized) choice, in his silvered years found himself living in a golden age. Outside his window a long, humid summer, the first hot season of the third millennium, baked and perspired. The city boiled with money. Rents and property values had never been higher, and in the garment industry it was widely held that fashion had never been so fashionable. New restaurants opened every hour. Stores, dealerships, galleries struggled to satisfy the skyrocketing demand for ever more recherch produce: limited-edition olive oils, three-hundred-dollar corkscrews, customized Humvees, the latest anti-virus software, escort services featuring contortionists and twins, video installations, outsider art, featherlight shawls made from the chin-fluff of extinct mountain goats. So many people were doing up their apartments that supplies of high-grade fixtures and fittings were at a premium. There were waiting lists for baths, doorknobs, imported hardwoods, antiqued fireplaces, bidets, marble slabs. In spite of the recent falls in the value of the Nasdaq index and the value of Amazon stock, the new technology had the city by the ears: the talk was still of start-ups, IPOs, interactivity, the unimaginable future that had just begun to begin. The future was a casino, and everyone was gambling, and everyone expected to win.
On Professor Solanka’s street, well-heeled white youths lounged in baggy garments on roseate stoops, stylishly simulating indigence while they waited for the billionairedom that would surely be along sometime soon. There was a tall, green-eyed young woman with steeply slanting Central European cheekbones who particularly caught his sexually abstinent but still roving eye. Her spiky strawberry-blond hair stuck out clown-fashion from under a black D’Angelo Voodoo baseball cap, her lips were full and sardonic, and she giggled rudely behind a perfunctory palm as old-world, dandyish, cane-twirling little Solly Solanka in straw Panama hat and cream linen suit went by on his afternoon walk. Solly: the college identity he’d never cared for but had not entirely managed to lose.
“Hey, sir? Sir, excuse me?” The blonde was calling out to him, in imperious tones that insisted on a reply. Her satraps became watchful, like a Praetorian guard. She was breaking a rule of big-city life, breaking it brazenly, sure of her power, confident of her turf and posse, fearing nothing. This was just pretty-girl chutzpah; no big deal. Professor Solanka paused and turned to face the lounging goddess of the threshold, who proceeded, unnervingly, to interview him. “You walk a lot. I mean, five or six times a day, I see you walking someplace. I’m sitting here, I see you come, I see you go, but there’s no dog, and it’s not like you come back with lady friends or produce. Also, the hours are strange, it can’t be that you’re going to a job. So I’m asking myself, Why is he always out walking alone? There’s a guy with a lump of concrete hitting women on the head across town, maybe you heard that, but if I thought you were a weirdo, I wouldn’t be talking to you. And you have a British accent, which makes you interesting too, right. A few times there we even followed you, but you weren’t going anywhere, just wandering, just covering ground. I got the impression you were looking for something, and it crossed my mind to ask you what that might be. Just being friendly, sir, just being neighborly. You’re kind of a mystery. To me you are, anyhow.”
Sudden anger rose in him. “What I’m looking for,” he barked, “is to be left in peace.” His voice trembled with a rage far bigger than her intrusion merited, the rage which shocked him whenever it coursed through his nervous system, like a flood. Hearing his vehemence, the young woman recoiled, retreating into silence.
“Man,” said the largest, most protective of the Praetorian guard, her lover, no doubt, and her peroxide-blond centurion, “for an apostle of peace you sure are filled up with war.”
She reminded him of someone, but he couldn’t remember whom, and the little failure of memory, the “senior moment,” nagged at him infuriatingly. Luckily she wasn’t there anymore, no one was, when he returned from the Caribbean carnival damp-hatted and soaked through after being caught unprepared by a squall of hard, hot rain. Passing the Congregation Shearith Israel on Central Park West (a white whale of a building with a triangular pediment supported by four count ’em four massive Corinthian columns), Professor Solanka scurrying through the downpour remembered the newly bat-mitzvahed thirteen-year-old girl he’d glimpsed through the side door, waiting knife in hand for the ceremony of the blessing of the bread. No religion offers a ceremony of the Counting of the Blessings, mused Professor Solanka: you’d think the Anglicans, at least, would have come up with one of those. The girl’s face glowed through the gathered gloom, its young round features utterly confident of achieving the highest expectations. Yes, a blessed time, if you cared to use words like “blessed”; which Solanka, a skeptic, did not.
On nearby Amsterdam Avenue there was a summer block party, a street market, doing good business in spite of the showers. Professor Solanka surmised that in the greater part of the planet the goods piled high on these cut-price barrows would have filled the shelves and display cabinets of the most exclusive little boutiques and upper-echelon department stores. In all of India, China, Africa, and much of the southern American continent, those who had the leisure and wallet for fashion—or more simply, in the poorer latitudes, for the mere acquisition of things—would have killed for the street merchandise of Manhattan, as also for the cast-off clothing and soft furnishings to be found in the opulent thrift stores, the reject china and designer-label bargains to be found in downtown discount emporia. America insulted the rest of the planet, thought Malik Solanka in his old-fashioned way, by treating such bounty with the shoulder-shrugging casualness of the inequitably wealthy. But New York in this time of plenty had become the object and goal of the world’s concupiscence and lust, and the “insult” only made the rest of the planet more desirous than ever. On Central Park West the horse-drawn carriages moved up and down. The jingling of the bells on the harnesses sounded like cash in hand.
The season’s hit movie portrayed the decadence of Caesar Joaquin Phoenix’s imperial Rome, in which honor and dignity, not to mention life-and-death actions and distractions, were to be found only in the computer-regenerated illusion of the great gladiatorial arena, the Flavian Amphitheatre or Colosseum. In New York, too, there were circuses as well as bread: a musical about lovable lions, a bike race on Fifth, Springsteen at the Garden with a song about the forty-one police gunshots that killed innocent Amadou Diallo, the police union’s threat to boycott the Boss’s concert, Hillary vs. Rudy, a cardinal’s funeral, a movie about lovable dinosaurs, the motorcades of two largely interchangeable and certainly unlovable presidential candidates (Gush, Bore), Hillary vs. Rick, the lightning storms that hit the Springsteen concert and Shea Stadium, a cardinal’s inauguration, a cartoon about lovable British chickens, and even a literary festival; plus a series of “exuberant” parades celebrating the city’s many ethnic, national, and sexual subcultures and ending (sometimes) in knifings and assaults on (usually) women. Professor Solanka, who thought of himself as egalitarian by nature and a born-and-bred metropolitan of the countryside-is-for-cows persuasion, on parade days strolled sweatily cheek by jowl among his fellow citizens. One Sunday he rubbed shoulders with slim-hipped gay-pride prancers, the next weekend he got jiggy beside a big-assed Puerto Rican girl wearing her national flag as a bra. He didn’t feel intruded upon amid these multitudes; to the contrary. There was a satisfying anonymity in the crowds, an absence of intrusion. Nobody here was interested in his mysteries. Everyone was here to lose themselves. Such was the unarticulated magic of the masses, and these days losing himself was just about Professor Solanka’s only purpose in life. This particular rainy weekend there was a calypso beat in the air, not the mere Harry Belafonte Jamaica-farewells and jackass-songs of Solanka’s somewhat guiltily fond memory (“Now I tell you in a positive way / don’ tie me donkey down dere / ’cause me donkey will jump and bray / don’ tie me donkey down dere!”), but the true satirical music of the Jamaican troubadour-polemicists, Banana Bird, Cool Runnings, Yellowbelly, live in Bryant Park and on shoulder-high boomboxes up and down Broadway.
When he got home from the parade, however, Professor Solanka was seized by melancholy, his usual secret sadness, which he sublimated into the public sphere. Something was amiss with the world. The optimistic peace-and-love philosophy of his youth having given him up, he no longer knew how to reconcile himself to an increasingly phony (he loathed, in this context, the otherwise excellent word “virtual”) reality. Questions of power preyed on his mind. While the overheated citizenry was eating these many varieties of lotus, who knew what the city’s rulers were getting away with—not the Giulianis and Safirs, who responded so contemptibly to the complaints of abused women until amateur videos of the incidents showed up on the evening news, not these crude glove-puppets, but the high ones who were always there, forever feeding their insatiable desires, seeking out newness, devouring beauty, and always, always wanting more? The never encountered but ever present kings of the world—godless Malik Solanka avoided crediting these human phantoms with the gift of omnipresence—the petulant, lethal Caesars, as his friend Rhinehart would say, the Bolingbrokes cold of soul, the tribunes with their hands up the mayor’s and police commissioner’s Coriolanuses . . . Professor Solanka shuddered faintly at this last image. He knew himself well enough to be conscious of the broad scarlet streak of vulgarity in his character; still, the crude pun shocked him when he thought of it.
Puppet-masters were making us all jump and bray, Malik Solanka fretted. While we marionettes dance, who is yanking our strings?
The phone was ringing as he came through his front door, the rain still dripping off his hat brim. He answered it snappishly, snatching off its base the cordless unit in the apartment’s entrance hall. “Yes, what, please?” His wife’s voice arrived in his ear via a cable on the Atlantic bed, or maybe in these days when everything was changing it was a satellite high above the ocean, he couldn’t be sure. In these days when the age of pulse was giving way to the age of tone. When the epoch of analog (which was to say also of the richness of language, of analogy) was giving way to the digital era, the final victory of the numerate over the literate. He had always loved her voice. Fifteen years ago in London he had telephoned Morgen Franz, a publishing friend who by chance was away from his desk, and Eleanor Masters, passing by, had picked up the clamoring instrument; they had never met but ended up talking for an hour. A week later they dined at her place, neither of them alluding to the inappropriateness of so intimate a venue for a first date. A decade and a half of togetherness ensued. So, he fell in love with her voice before the rest of her. This had always been their favorite story about each other; now, of course, in love’s brutal aftermath, when memory was reinvented as pain, when voices on the phone were all they had left, it had become one of the saddest. Professor Solanka listened to the sound of Eleanor’s voice and with some distaste imagined it being broken up into little parcels of digitized information, her low lovely voice first consumed and then regurgitated by a mainframe computer probably located someplace like Hyderabad-Deccan. What is the digital equivalent of lovely, he wondered. What are the digits that encode beauty, the number-fingers that enclose, transform, transmit, decode, and somehow, in the process, fail to trap or choke the soul of it. Not because of the technology but in spite of it, beauty, that ghost, that treasure, passes undiminished through the new machines.