The latest novel from Salman Rushdie sits very firmly in the present world, the world of unreality that lurks just outside our window. It is a big contrast to his most recent novels, The Enchantress of Florence and Two years Eight months and Twenty-eight nights which stand firmly in the historical and mythological, imagined fantasies. “Two years Eight months…” is actually another way of saying 1001 nights and has all the flavour of those Arabian nights.
The Golden House begins with the election of Barack Obama and ends with a new president of anarchy and misrule, whom Rushdie casts as the Joker from Batman, all green hair and cracking face paint. The House of Golden is ruled over by ageing patriarch Nero Golden, who moves to New York with his three sons, Petronius (Petya for short), Apuleius (Apu) and Dionysus (simply D). The history of the Golden dynasty is watched over on our behalf by Rene Unterlinden, young aspiring filmmaker, neighbour and sometimes participant in the Golden action. Because of his cinematic slant to the narration some of the scenes that Rene describes are seen through the lens, “Wide Shot. Manhattan Street. Night.”
One of the things that I love most about this book are the constant references to books and films and directors. The Godfather, The Graduate, Monsoon Wedding, The Deer Hunter, The Purple Rose of Cairo all appear. There is even a mention of La belle noiseuse, an obscure French arthouse film that ran for 4 hours and which I wagged off work to see back in the nineties.
The Golden family fit into New York life, but the murky criminal past left behind in another country, eventually catches up with them, “…the trouble with trying to escape yourself is that you bring yourself along for the ride.” Towards the end of the book we listen to what happened back in India, where they originated. Rushdie has experienced all these places, having been born in India, lived in London to hone his skills in English and then having spent the last twenty years living in New York, always absorbing something from the maelstrom of cultures.
That Donald Trump features as the Joker, described as “utterly and certifiably insane”, gives the book a very contemporary feel. At one point I wondered if the brief references had all been added at a later point, closer to publication, as they had little link to the rest of the story. Clearly Rushdie doesn’t like “the Joker”, saying at one point “In Gotham we knew who the Joker was, and wanted nothing to do with him, or the daughter he lusted after, or the daughter he never mentioned, or the sons who murdered elephants and leopards for sport.”
I don’t want to say too much about the plot, as it would be all too easy to spoil some of the surprises that lurk there. Go and read it, enjoy all the nuanced references and savour the puns, the nicknames and all the brilliant characters. This is one of Salman Rushdie’s most accessible novels.