Quite a short selection this month, but there’s two novels with clear connections to the modern political and media world, a look at female friendship and perspective, and a fantastic book of poetry by a young poet that tells stories of love and personal struggle in snappy and concise ways. As ever, links in titles to longer reviews.
The Golden Houseby Salman Rushdie – Rushdie’s new novel tells the story of an American immigrant real estate tycoon and his children with a background of modern politics and culture. Highly referential, it is a novel that understands fact and fiction aren’t all they seem.
The Beast by Alexander Starritt – The target of comic mockery is the British tabloid press, in this novel about scaremongering and prejudice that follows Jeremy Underwood, a subeditor for The Daily Beast, as he breaks what seems to be a story about a terror threat.
The Burning Girl by Claire Messud – Through the eyes of main character Julia, using hindsight to reflect upon the breakdown of her friendship with troubled Cassie, Messud creates a novel about reliability and perception, and whether people are how we think we see them.
Bone by Yrsa Daley-Ward – A collection of poetry about growing up, making mistakes, and finding love that will strike a chord with teenagers and adults with its clever and emotional lines and sparsely told stories.
The rise and fall of one family: The Golden House by Salman Rushdie
The Golden House is a relevant and highly referential novel that charts the recent years of American culture and politics through the story of an immigrant real estate tycoon. Nero Golden moves to New York from Mumbai with his three grown up sons, where they are watched and befriended by their neighbour René, an aspiring filmmaker. René narrates the novel and charts the fall of the house of Golden, set against the years of the Obama presidency and the recent US election.
Rushdie writes in a captivating style from the outset, with a mysterious narrator who has a degree of self-consciousness about his own growing involvement in the story he is telling. The conceit of René being a filmmaker who slips into writing in a film script structure at times and who deviates from the narrative by discussing and comparing events to classic cinema works well to give the novel a sense of truth and fiction, an invented narrative suffused with real life events and popular culture references. Literary references are used more sparingly, but the narrator slips in Eliot’s Prufrock and various other quotation at times. The combination of these references with key elements of recent culture from gamergate to prejudice surrounding gender identity creates a novel that is very much situated in the modern world, whilst self-consciously telling a story.
The narratorial coyness surrounding real political events—a certain president’s rise, for example, is depicting though not in so many words—has a faintly smug feel, but this serves as part of the enjoyment too. The style is distinctive and will be a hit with anyone who likes highly referential prose with a degree of self-awareness. The narrative is gripping, with the story moving between Nero, his three sons, and the narrator René, and with a tendency to foreshadow that isn’t too obtrusive. Near the end there is a fair amount of exposition that can get a little slow, but otherwise the pacing is good and the story an interesting mix of drama, gangsters, identity, and lies.
In The Golden House, Rushdie has clearly written a novel for the Trump era, for the internet age of trolls, and for the mix of the old and the new. There is something about the book, particularly in its style and narration, that draws the reader in, even whilst it celebrates its own clever references. It is about reinvention and transformation, and about media for telling stories. Rushdie has captured at least some element of the modern day and it is worth reading.