A week ago I went to see Salman Rushdie talk about his memoirs. In preparation I decided to read something by him, and picked The Moor’s Last Sigh from my shelf. The book had been there for quite some time, being picked up only to be put back again. Somehow I just did not seem to have the energy for Rushdie’s writing. The truth is that this state of mind still applied when I committed to reading the book, but this time my mind was firm, so I read it from beginning to end.
There is much to admire in The Moor’s last sigh. Rushdie has an amazing talent for writing and the language is beautifully crafted. But sometimes this barrage of words feels like too much. The sentences are long, and unless you concentrate you easily get lost. Here is an example of a beautiful passage:
How to forgive the world for its beauty, which merely disguises its ugliness; for its gentleness, which merely cloaks its cruelty; for its illusion of continuity, seamlessly, as the night follows the day, so to speak- whereas in reality life is a series of brutal raptures, falling upon your defenseless hands, like the blows of a woodman’s axe?” (The Moor’s Last Sigh – Salman Rushdie)
It is a lovely passage, but even when reading these lines, you have to pay lots of attention to punctuation in order to avoid re-reading the lines a few times. The problem is that the entirety of this densely lined book is filled with intricately wrought sentences like the above. This is fine if you are in the mood for a careful read, but in my tired Autumn mood I was not up to the challenge.
In addition to the language, the story itself is also worthy of admiration. The story spans several generations, with one tale more incredible than the other. But there are so many characters and so many stories that somehow I ended up not able to root for any of the characters. And this was not because of their questionable deeds. I enjoy reading about characters who blur the lines between good and evil and cherish books that can give me insight into why ordinary people end up doing bad things. In this book there were simply too many and no real explanation for their deeds. When the main character finally came into the picture I had already had my fill of bizarre stories. I did feel some empathy towards his predicament, growing old twice as fast as other people, but not enough to really care about what happened to him.
So although there is much to value in this book, for me it remained an objective admiration for a fine work of art. Only on rare moments did the book manage to captivate me or move me in any significant way. The next book I read is bound to be something completely different.