Salman Rushdie is a novelist whose books have been highly praised around the world, and yet I find his style of writing hard to get to grips with.
I always struggle every time I pick one of his books up, determined to read it through to the very end but failing miserably to do so.
Perhaps I’m not learned enough to appreciate such august literary works of the great man, acknowledged by a majority of critics to be a genius. He himself is not shy to rate himself alongside Joyce, Bellow, Roth and Proust, who he cites in his memoirs as his equals.
I have come across Rushdie fleetingly at one or two cocktail parties but cannot claim to know him well. His high profile, however, does little to endear him beyond the circle of friends and devotees who fawn with admiration every time his name is mentioned.
To them, he’s the flag bearer of freedom, courage and defiance in the face of adversity. To me, he seems prickly, arrogant, ungrateful and full of his own self-promoted glory.
Reviewing his latest book, Joseph Anton: A Memoir, my friend A. N. Wilson calls it ‘a most peculiar book written like the works of Julius Caesar or General de Gaulle in the third person. If this comparison seems grandiose to you, it would not necessarily do so to the author, who in the first twenty pages has compared himself to King Charles I – who like Rushdie, did not acknowledge the legitimacy of the judges who condemned him – and Voltaire’. Rushdie naturally refers to Ayatollah Khomeini who sentenced him to death in 1989.
The book records in detail his plight as a fully protected person who felt that his precious liberty was taken away from him. Nevertheless, the saga catapulted him to world fame and in many ways glamorised him as a victim of free expression, which many believe is the cornerstone of true democracy.
But what I found rather unpleasant about the memoirs was his list of grudges and scores paid off. Nobody escapes his vindictive nature including his four wives and some of his fellow writers.
The book is over long and becomes tedious and not, in my estimation, worthy of a writer of his calibre. He could have done with a much shorter version and avoided unnecessary rants which do not enhance his image.
He always insisted on a novelist’s right to offend but is sensitive to criticism himself and does not take it gracefully. This will surely have the effect of diminishing him as a writer even in the eyes of his most loyal friends.
What the memoirs shed is a great deal of light on his complex character, his name-dropping and above all his excessive pursuit of seeking the limelight no matter the cost or the hurt it might cause others.
He’s self-involved beyond the realm of acceptability. It is, nevertheless, worthy of note to mention that it was Mr Blair who gave him his knighthood.
That in itself would be another story to tell.