Nilanjana Roy, author and literary critic extraordinaire has a series of guest posts up on her site to commemorate Banner Books Week. One of them is my review of The Satanic Verses. She’d casually mentioned that I could write a few lines as a prelude of sorts, about how it felt to re-read the novel. (Me stop at a mere few lines? *collapses with manic laughter*) Here’s what I wrote.
I actually started re-reading The Satanic Verses well before I’d got my hands on a copy of Joseph Anton, all because of Mihir Sharma who wrote in a column that The Satanic Verses is Salman Rushdie’s “most unreadable” work. Once I’d stopped hissing indignantly, I wondered whether Mihir was right and a particularly potent attack of youthful adoration had made me love the book when I’d first read it. So, after years, I started reading it again.In Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi writes about an Iranian film censor who was blind. Those of us who have had the chance to read banned books are a bit like the censor’s assistant whose job was to describe the films to the blind man. It’s a terrible responsibility because it falls upon us to not only depict the work, but to also presume how a work may be interpreted. We shouldn’t have to do this, but here’s the silver lining: it gives us the opportunity to reinterpret a work of art, to wave the fan of our opinions at the miasma around it. Re-reading The Satanic Verses, I realised that I was swept along the whirlpool of Gibreel and Saladin’s adventures, rather than getting stuck at controversial bits. It was the snap-crackle-pop of Rushdie’s storytelling that I was enjoying and not a banned book. And so, for a few days, there was no controversy, there was no fatwa; there was just a big, fat British-Indian novel that’s loads of fun.