100 Novels: Midnight’s Children

I am reading the Telegraph’s “100 novels everyone should read” list. You can follow my progress on the twitter hashtag #100novels.

This review will contain spoilers.

Midnight’s Children

I actually read Midnight’s Children last year, so I didn’t need to re-read it. I was glad to see it pop up on the 100 novels list, however, because it was one of those books I absolutely loved.

First some background. Midnight’s Children falls into that genre known as magic realism. The novel is set against an historical background, which is India’s move away from British Colonialism towards independence. However, the writing is full of fancy, with supernatural acts and the whole novel really symbolism layered over symbolism.

The narrative is complex, being an story of his life that the central character, Saleem, is telling to his wife-to-be Padma. His story is unreliable, based on his memory and full of digressions, foreshadowings, flashbacks and commentary with the result that much of the book is left open to interpretation.

To me, the book is about how people and history are one and the same thing. That where and when a person lives will impact on who they are, but equally they shape history and become a part of the changing face of our world. Saleem considers himself a chosen child ‘handcuffed to history’, but in truth there are a thousand and one others like him — the ‘midnight’s children’ of the title, all born at the exact moment that India became independent — and in truth his story does not climax in an act of any great significance; Saleem finishes his life as a chutney maker and prophesies that he will fall into dust in the very near future. In some respects, Saleem is India, he represents her, but in other respects he no more represents india than any of the other characters he comes into contact with. India is more than one person, far greater in depth and complexity than even the most significant and noteworthy of human lives. Yet equally, India is only the sum of all the human experiences that make her up, without human perspectives and human lives there would be no such thing as a country or history.

The book is a masterful creation; with details within details. You could discuss the meaning of the characters and the scenes endlessly, and it would be a brilliant book for a book club because of the controversial themes and ideas that run through the novel.

But unlike many ‘classics’ this one is joyful. There is a sheer love for storytelling that comes through, and the nod towards an oral storytelling tradition only deepens the enjoyment. I can easily see myself coming back to this novel again and again, thanks to the beautiful writing, and the complex themes that run through it. It’s the kind of big, bold book that make you love reading and shows you what a masterful writer can really do.

Have you read it? What did you think?

Some thoughts on Fandom

I am re-watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer right now. Just hit Season Two, and am having ALL THE FEELS.

Anyway, Buffy was probably my first ‘true’ fandom – I had been a fan of stuff before, but this was the first of my adolescence, and was also actually good (my previous fandom was Sonic the Hedgehog, which I still love, but does not exactly have the most complicated and subtle storylines in the world).

Re-watching, I am actually quite shocked at how much I remember, and how much I still cared – deeply, passionately – about the characters.

There are a few reasons I loved Buffy then, but looking back on it I am surprised at how progressive it is, far more progressive than most TV shows made today. There are some issues (like a terribly white washed crowd of students, and no non-whites in the central cast) but it’s also pro-athiesm, pro-women, pro-sex, pro-lesbian, pro-paganism/witchcraft, pro-single mothers… and so on.

I’m not really here to talk about Buffy, however. Instead, I want to talk about fandom. On the one hand, it seems a distinctly modern phenomenon. The internet connected up isolated fans and gave them a community, that in turn exploded into fanfiction, fanart, tumblrs dedicated to gifs, joint twitter watchings, and enabled thousands of conventions to spring up that catered to almost every different obsession.

On the other hand, fanfiction has existed at least since Dante wrote his Divine Comedy and wrote a story about himself hanging out with a whole bunch of famous people. (And there now exists fanfiction of the Divine Comedy, which is altogether awesome). Trekkies existed before the internet. I am sure that Shakespeare’s plays were adored by playgoers, many of whom probably went home and made up stories about the characters to tell each other. Humans and stories are inextricably interwoven, stories are our history and our identity and our culture.

And yet mass media and mass consumption has never before been so… well, mass. Millions of people can share a single moment, a beloved characters death, the first kiss of a blossoming true love story, the final come-uppance of an evil villain, the redemption of one that had almost fallen beyond reach. Our reactions are emotional, visceral, real-and-yet-not-real. Little jokes become gigantic sprawling memes: Loki’s army, for example. Any successful story; book, film, video game, quickly spawns hundreds if not thousands of sub-stories. I don’t know how many hours of my life I’ve invested into fandom, but it’s a lot. I drew fanart, wrote fanfiction, coded fan-sites, moderated fan-forums, participated in fan-role-playing-games, went to fancy dress parties as my favourite characters (cosplay by any other name is just as fun).

There are different types and levels of fandom. Whether you are speculating on soap-operas at work or welding together iron wings for upcoming cosplay you are participating in the culture. We like to scoff at other people’s fandoms (those that adore soap-operas will dismiss people who enjoy more fantasy driven fiction as ‘nerds’ whilst those who enjoy speculative flights of fancy will see the soap-opera watchers as dull beyond words). The truth is, we are much more alike than we like to believe.

I’d love to know: what has fandom done for you? I can credit my fandoms with forging some of my closest and most meaningful friendships, as well as being a big source of my current political outlook. But what about you?

We rise above

Written for the Shuffle Flash Fiction Challenge at Terrible Minds. When I hit shuffle, I got We Rise Above, by Arcana.

“You are in detention.” The exercise book slapped onto Martin’s desk. Looking at the page it was open to, he saw the big red F at the top of the page, and the littering of angry red comments all the way down. He looked up at his teacher, whose nostrils were flaring. He found himself fascinated by them; their cavernous, fleshy depths.

“An absolutely horrific story! I want to see you after school to discuss this.” His teacher swept away, and Martin heard the giggles of the other students. He shrugged to himself, and pulled the book towards him. He frowned at his story, and then packed the exercise book back into his bag.

The bell sounded, tinny and harsh. Voices rose, giggles turned to laughter, gossip ripped through the ranks of students, chairs screeched across the cheap floor and the students became an amorphous creature that swelled into the corridors of the school. Martin watched them dreamily, the black jumpers and trousers blending into a wave of darkness punctuated by hands and faces. Continue reading We rise above

Take this dust and make a star

I am lost in this slow unfolding of a dry and dusty life. I dream of blazing starlight, of fires and last stands, of the easy knife-edge choices, of life or death, of love and passion without consequence.

But here, in this twilight zone, in this dusty unravelled world, where there is nothing left but consequences, where all those knife-edge dramas left a wake of complex misery that beats like a drum through the decades.

The truth, my love, is that I never deserved you. That your bright-light whirlwind illuminated me, but I never found how to glow from within. I am faded, and old – forever and always old, but I wore your youth and beauty for a while.

These days tick slowly by, and everything I was runs through my grasp. Long nights of driving through the darkness in a bubble of music, the fevered lusts that ran backwards through my finger-tips, the fantastical land that I wove between the silences you left for me.

Now, now, I am too tired to dream, those aching sorrows have left me empty and dry, immune to those knife-edge dramas. I watch the sun bleed away, and allow everything to unravel.

It is forgotten.