Monday, 7 September 2020

Book review: East, West, Salman Rushdie (1994)

This knock-you-off-your-feet collection of short stories was picked up at an op-shop for $2, proving the rule that you cannot judge a book by the sticker price. It’s the only book of short stories I’d read since April this year, so was a breath of fresh air on two counts. The jacket is surprising too, and seems to me to be distinctly modern, with the na├»ve style reminding me of similar works by Australian Aboriginal artists.

Each story has its own style and so the fictional process is as much at issue as any notion of the Other that Rushdie successfully imports into his creations. In fact, the striking differences that take you from one world to the next are so severe that it is as though you were reading productions of a range of different pens. 

With aplomb, Rushdie manages to pull off each sally, never shrinking from a challenge and always delivering meaning as well as pleasure. What a find! Surely the best thing by this author I’ve ever read. In fact, it seems a shame that Rushdie decided to spend more time writing novels, if this level of quality is available in the shorter form.

Short stories are, unfortunately, discounted by readers and this can lead good short story writers to transfer their energies to the longer form. In Australia, two authors who have achieved acclaim in the short form and who then went on to try novels are Cate Kennedy (not brilliant novels but exceedingly good short stories) and Melanie Cheng (wonderful short stories; I haven’t read her recent novel). 

Rushdie’s mercurial temperament – something that made him infamous with some parts of the global community – might in fact be the thing that allowed him to write such brilliant short stories for ‘East, West’. He likes variety and doesn’t like to be tied down to convention. In fact he finds himself at home in both hemispheres, and this is a source of charm for the reader. A writer of the future …

No comments: