All the beastliness of shame

Comedic and macabre, Salman Rushdie’s Shame lays bare the mouldering shreds of human pride.

20170126_153350Shame · Salman Rushdie · 1983
Random House, 2008 · 307 pages, paperback

Dizzy, peripheral, inverted, infatuated, insomniac, stargazing, fat: what manner of hero is this?

The result of an orgy, Omar Khayyam is the illegitimate son to the three sisters Shakil who obscure his birth, profanely, under rumors of a divine conception. Leaving for school at age 12, Omar Khayyam receives his one constraint: never to allow his origins to be held against him – that is, never to lower his pride, never to feel shame.

But what of that “wrong miracle,” that strange, pitiful girl, Sufiya Zinobia? Opposites attract, a marriage is made: Sufiya Zinobia and Omar Shakil. Shame and Shamelessness.

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Five tough books on the TBR

I didn’t read War and Peace for the purpose of saying that I’ve read it. I read it because I fell in love with Anna Karenina. I’ve since read as much Tolstoy as I can get my hands on.

But there are books I want to read, if not because I think I “should” (though there are these, too), then because they intimidate and frustrate and confuse and disarm, and, and…and?

And allure me.

A peek at five of the books staring me down:

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Diamond in the rough

With so much attention given to the artistry of his prose, Doerr’s story fades into little more than static.


All the Light We Cannot See · Anthony Doerr
Scribner, 2014 · 530 pages, hardcover

Anthony Doerr’s novel All the Light We Cannot See won him the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction with many an accolade for his stylistic prose. Verbs find themselves severed from their subjects and sentences end up two nouns long. With little variation in tone throughout the novel, Doerr writes with a pen tuned to the limited frequencies of drama and melodrama. It works, but only half the time.

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Pity the fool

“In a world where God is simply dead flesh, a good man becomes simply an idiot.” – AS Byatt, “Prince of Fools,” The Guardian, June 2004

the-idiotThe Idiot · Fyodor Dostoevsky · 1868-’69
Pevear and Volokhonsky translation · Vintage, 2003 · 633 pages, paperback

Dostoevsky explained in a letter to a friend, and later to his niece, that his project in writing The Idiot was that of portraying a “perfectly beautiful man.” This man, Prince Myshkin, the titular “idiot,” is an epileptic who returns to Russia after four years in a Swiss sanatorium.

Myshkin isn’t an intellectual idiot; his idiocy stems from naivety and simple-heartedness. Myshkin is an idiot because he is foolish to the nastier, baser parts of man and to the cruel reality of an impure world.

Dostoevsky writes goodness with the same attention he gave meanness in Crime and Punishment. He writes it as an otherness, received only with reservations, suspicion and disbelief. Goodness disintegrates, is dragged through the street and becomes tangled up with the coarser parts of society until it is unrecognizable and even damaging.

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I read too much and write too little and my head ends up overfull and a little too confused.

Characters march in with their dirty boots and put up a righteous din. “Guillotine, guillotine! Shu shu shu!” They shout, they boast, they mope and argue and cry and proclaim.

There’s word of a policeman, tied to the back of a bear, floating down the Neva. A blind musician tunes his zither and plays to a married man’s seduction of an Egyptian singer. And there’s another man, off to the side, who relives the passionate bullfights of Pamplona, though he is impotent to passion itself.

I invite them willingly, drunkards and English ladies alike, but I must turn this crowded tavern into a salon or I will never hear any of them properly. We’ll see whether Dolokhov comes in from the window and behaves himself.

Reviews here at the Masthead will be more than reviews, and I forewarn that I cannot always avoid spoilers (though I’ll try to hide such nefarious things under the carpeting of “read more.”)