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JAMES HARRISON Reconstructing Midnight's Children and Shame In Midnight's Children and Shame Salman Rushdie has presented the world with certainly the most talked about and probably the most incisive treatments in English fiction of the Indian subcontinent since A Passage to India. He has also presented the academic world with what seem almost textbook examples of all that postmodernist criticism tells us should be found in any self-respecting contemporary novel.1 And who am I to bite the hand that feeds me? Whatever needs illustrating, whether it be reader-response theory or metafiction or the tendency of language to deconstruct, Rushdie obliges. But these features alone cannot account for the widespread acceptance of his novels by a more general readership. And it does seem as if those more traditional attributes offiction which he also contrives to incorporate are in danger of being overlooked by his scholarly apologists. Of such attributes, the enthusiasm with which he grinds his political axes to so keen an edge is something I shall for the most part assume 'needs no bush.' What will principally claim my attentionis the ingenuity with which, out ofmaterial which is amorphous as a consequence both of its quantity and of its postmodernist presentation , Rushdie nevertheless creates structure, cohesion, and unity. The first thing that strikes one about Midnight's Children is its sheer size and scope. For over four hundred crammed pages the novel deploys a named cast of more than seventy, occupies a stage stretching from Kashmir south to Bombay and from Karachi east to Dacca, and encompasses the history of India from independence to the state of emergency decreed by Indira Gandhi. Rushdie himself has said of the novel: One reason the book is so long is ... the idea of the novel being something that includes as much as possible. It seems to me really that there are only two kinds of novel. There are novels which proceed on the basis of excluding most of the world, of plucking that one strand out of the universe and writing about that. Or there are novels in which you try to include everything, what Henry James called 'the loose baggy monsters' of fiction.2 He also has his narrator, Saleem Sinai, ask of an artist whose paintings start as miniatures but catch elephantiasis, 'is this an Indian disease, this urge to encapsulate the whole ofreality?'3 And Richard Cronin, in a study UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 59, NUMBER 3, SPRING 1990 400 JAMES HARRISON of Midnight's Children and Kim, replies that 'only those like Rushdie [and Kipling], who write about India in English' (still, ironically, the nation's only true lingua franca), are likely to catch the disease and have the temerity to tackle India in its entirety.4 Rushdie's prose style alone shows both the effort involved and the strains inherent in such a task. The penultimate paragraph of the book, for instance, from 'I will have train tickets' to the end, foresees the remainder of Padma and Saleem's marriage day, recapitulates for the last time the preceding events of the story, and closes with the 'fission of Saleem ... bones splitting breaking ... bag of bones falling down down down' as Shiva and the Widow close in on him from either side, all forty-five lines of print without a period (462-3). Earlier and similar passages capture 'the confusion inside [Saleem's] head' when he first discovers his telepathic powers (170-1), the conflicting points of view expressed at a typical session of the Midnight's Children's Conference (MCC) in the 'parliament of [Saleem's] brain' (228), and the tension-filled thirteen days of Parvati's labour and the Widow's refusal to resign (417-19). But much the most complex is the paragraph devoted to the bomb explosion that kills Saleem's family (342-3). A change from past to present tenses, the more striking for occurring midway through a single sentence, marks the crucial turning point of Saleem's amnesia. And no other passage in the book incorporates so much important ongoing action, so detailed a recital of past events,ยท and such a wealth of implication for the future...


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pp. 399-412
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