The Golden House and I have a complex relationship, one that becomes more difficult as each minute passes. I desperately wanted to love this book, but there was something that held me back and I seem to be in the minority according to the early Goodreads reviews.
One day the Goldens appear in NYC. Together with their father, Nero, the three adult children take new identities, from ‘Roman’ names in order to leave their past behind. Told never to divulge where they came from, why they left, or what their father does, the family quickly becomes a matter of speculation. Their story is fascinating to René, who becomes obsessed with finding out about their history and the intricacies of their lives, in order to make a film out of their eccentric ways.
Let me begin with what I loved about The Golden House: the writing. There is something luxurious about Rushdie’s writing. It is unhurried and comprehensive, especially in this book. The sheer scope of the character portrayals and historical references is comprehensive, to say the least. Rushdie’s thematic exploration and writing techniques are noteworthy. By merging this book with film cues and monologues, the line between fiction and reality is thoroughly blurred. And this is only the tip of the iceberg. Rushdie explores issues of identity, migration, transformation, and morality.
One of my favorite parts was how Rushdie examines the line between performance and reality. How do we inhabit our personas and make them into our identity? At what point does the line cease to matter? This was just one of the beautiful themes explored in the novel. It makes it so hard to review this book, because all the “grand idea’s” behind this book I loved – if we can be good and evil at the same time (contrasted by superheroes and villains), how we make sense of our guilt, and much more. But it was difficult for me to get there.
Rushdie’s writing envelops you completely, but I found it, at times, to be smothering. These thorough character glimpses can be exhausting. The plot can become muddled, lost in the haze of detail. At one point Rushdie compares people to icebergs beneath the surface of the water, and he spares no expense to take us deep underwater to the depths of their foundation. But this was both a blessing and a curse, as I felt that the plot was slow moving. While it picked up after the novel was halfway done, it was a little taxing to get there.
There is a wealth of intertextuality here: authors, films, historical events. Both made it seem so real, but also unrelatable. I felt like I was wading in a crowd at a socialite event where they all know each other and I know no one. The references I did recognize, I loved – so I imagine this book would be even richer if I was more cultured, especially in film. There were so many moments where Rushdie’s writing was incredibly poignant and I made note of it.
And what was at the heart of the book, the characters, was also a contested issue for me. I didn’t connect with very many and the ones I did, were side characters. I wouldn’t hear about one of them, D for example, for many pages and so my attention began to wane. And the ones I liked even more than D were even more rarely mentioned. I understood the main characters, and their struggles, but I could not connect with them.
Many from Goodreads have observed that you need to have patience. That you cannot be thinking about anything else. And I agree. This book is immersive, and all eyes must be glued to the text, otherwise you may have gotten as lost as I was. I’m not sure why this book didn’t click for me. Was it the style? The departure of Rushdie from magical realism to historical fiction? The characters? Whatever it was, I got through it, but missed that exhilaration and love I felt after reading Midnight’s Children.
So if you’re sitting at the end of this review and wondering if the book is for you, let me give you some help. If you enjoy character books, cultural references, and fantastic writing this book could just be your next literary fiction love. If you are ready to devote a chapter a night, next to the fire, with your feet up, this may be a perfect thinking chair book. But if you also love Rushdie, give this a go. I sincerely hope you give it the love it deserves.
Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for an honest review from Netgalley.
What has been your experience with Rushdie before? Any? Favorite book?
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