Thursday, February 20, 2020

Salman Rushdie Writes Terrible Novels But Wonderful Paragraphs

That night he talked and drank without stopping, and all of us who were there would carry fragments of that talk in our memories for the rest of our lives. What crazy, extraordinary talk it was! No limit to the subjects he reached for and used as punching bags: the British royal family, in particular the sex lives of Princess Margaret, who used a Caribbean island as her private boudoir, and Prince Charles, who wanted to be his lover’s tampon; the philosophy of Spinoza (he liked it); the lyrics of Bob Dylan (he recited the whole of ‘Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’, as reverently as if it were a companion piece to ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’); the Spassky–Fischer chess match (Fischer had died the year before); Islamic radicalism (he was against it) and wishy-washy liberalism (which appeased Islam, he said, so he was against it, too); the Pope, whom he called ‘Ex-Benedict’; the novels of G. K. Chesterton (he was a fan of The Man Who Was Thursday); the unpleasantness of male chest hair; the ‘unjust treatment’ of Pluto, recently demoted to the status of ‘dwarf planet’ after a larger body, Eris, was discovered in the Kuiper Belt; the flaws in Hawking’s theory of black holes; the anachronistic weakness of the American electoral college; the stupidity of non-electoral college students; the sexiness of Margaret Thatcher; and the ‘twenty-five per cent of Americans’–on the far right of the political spectrum–‘who are certifiably insane’.

Oh, but there was also his adoration of Monty Python’s Flying Circus! And all of a sudden he was flustered and stumbling to find the right words, because one of the dinner guests, a member of a prominent Broadway family of theatre owners, had brought along, as his plus-one, the Python Eric Idle, who was then enjoying a revival of fame thanks to the Broadway success of Spamalot, and who arrived just as Petya was expounding, to the serenely elegant sculptor Ubah Tuur (of whom there will be much more to say in a moment), upon his hatred of musicals in general; he exempted only Oklahoma! and West Side Story, and had been offering us idiosyncratic snatches of ‘I Cain’t Say No’ and ‘Gee, Officer Krupke’ while explaining that ‘all other musicals were shit’. When he saw the Python standing there listening he blushed brightly and then rescued himself by including Mr Idle’s musical among the blessed, and led the company in a rousing chorus of ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of LIfe'

The Golden House by Salman Rushdie

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