Want to read with me? Follow this link to view the list and pick a book (or a few!) to read along with me. I'd love for this project to be collaborative, and will post anyone's thoughts beside my own.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Have you a stout heart? Nerves fit for sliding panels and tapestry?

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
Northanger Abbey  tells the tale of Catherine Morland, an unassuming anti-heroine, chronicling her friendships, her unfounded (and often fantastical) fears, her most unexpected expulsion, and her final felicity. We first encounter Catherine in Bath, where she has travelled with her family friends, the Allens, in order to trample in the path of Other Rich Men. She first succeeds in making a BFF (who turns out to be rather a Naughty Girl, but makes a fine introductory sort of best friend), then, Austen-style, finds a handsome gentleman upon whom to aggressively crush. The Naughty BFF, Isabella, becomes affianced to Catherine's brother, James, but manages to make quite a mess of things by flirting ostentatiously with Catherine's crushy-poo's brother, Mr. Frederick Tilney (not be confused with Henry Tilney, Catherine's lovely and innocent bae-to-be). In the meantime, Catherine gets to hang with the Tilneys (Henry + not-so-naughty new BFF candidate sister Eleanor + Mr. Tilney Sr., aka "The General") at their super dramatic gothic castle normal-looking home, Northanger Abbey. Unsurprisingly, Catherine falls even harder for Henry, Eleanor becomes her new bestie, and things seem to be going SWIMMINGLY until duN DuN DUN! the General rudely Expels Catherine from their home (while Henry is away at his parsonage) with not so much as a 'by your leave'. Catherine is distraught and mortified, and drags her bedraggled self back home to her large family (ten siblings! eight is a lot o' legs, David!). After a few days of miserable agony, Henry appears (Trumpet blare!) and says his stupid father thought she was richer than she is (because it turns out naughty Isabella's brother, John, who had the hots for Catherine (prior to/concurrent with the Henry crushing), *may* have intimated to the General that Catherine was rolling in it) but Henry doesn't care about money and his father-be-damned he wants Catherine for his Wifey. She is thrilled, her parents are all, "Wow! We didn't even know you guys were Into each other!" and eventually the curmudgeonly general gives in and consents. Henry and Catherine are married, and everyone makes free to wish them joy. THE END.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

I greatly enjoyed reading this book. I esteemed it greatly. I liked it. ;) Seriously, though, it was a pleasure. I think it may be the only Austen that I hadn't read, and it was such fun to meet new characters that reminded me in some ways of other Austen creations, but were in other ways quite starkly different. If you haven't read it, regardless of whether you're an Austen convert (and let's be honest, if you aren't (and you know what's best for you) you probably should just go ahead and start LOVING all her books rn), I highly recommend it. It's not terribly long, and it's Quite Diverting!

Here are my thoughts, as usual, in no particular (or petechial) chronology:

Note from her authoress herself, Miss Austen
The book starts off with a note from Jane herself, and I thought it was delightfully sassy. See below:
"This little work was finished in the year 1803, and intended for immediate publication. It was disposed of to a bookseller, it was even advertised, and why the business proceeded no farther, the author has never been able to learn. That any bookseller should think it worth-while to purchase what he did not think it worth-while to publish seems extraordinary. But with this, neither the author nor the public have any other concern than as some observation is necessary upon those parts of the work which thirteen years have made comparatively obsolete. The public are entreated to bear in mind that thirteen years have passed since it was finished, many more since it was begun, and that during that period, places, manners, books, and opinions have undergone considerable changes." I love that she's like, Hello! You paid good money for this product, and you said you'd publish it, so, what gives, dude? And wow, thirteen years old! Those trends are SO off. Don't be thinking I still think flared jeans are cool, K?

Catherine might be my favorite Austen heroine
I've always been a fan of Lizzie Bennet (I mean, who Isn't? #amirite) and Elinor Dashwood and Emma Woodhouse (and yes, I specifically picked those two, don't judge) have their own unique charms, but Catherine was a delightfully accessible heroine. I've tried several times to imagine which Bennet sister I am (sometimes I end up between Mary and Kitty and THEN I JUST WANT TO DIE) but to no avail, and much as I like to think I'm a Lizzie or an Elinor, or an Emma, I think in all reality I am more of a Catherine. And not only is that OK, that is wonderful. Here are some reasons why Catherine gets an A in my book of heroines (NB: not a real thing, just in case you were curious):

Reasons why I like Catherine:
-- Her name - OK, so Catherine is not really high on my list of majestic names, and it makes me think of silly Catherine from Wuthering Heights, BUT, it just so happens to also be the name of one my all-time favorite people, the beautiful creature that brought me into this world and nurtures me and loves me and *may* astutely and anonymously comment on this very blob from time to time.

- Her modest beginnings - as mentioned in the spoiler, Catherine is set up as a sort of anti-heroine. She's not particularly special, or pretty, and starts off pretty rough.
  • "No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine."
  • "She never could learn or understand anything before she was taught; and sometimes not even then, for she was often inattentive, and occasionally stupid." hagh.
- Neville Longbottoming - but THEN, Catherine takes a turn for the better...
  • "She had a thin awkward figure, a sallow skin without colour, dark lank hair, and strong features—so much for her person; and not less unpropitious for heroism seemed her mind." OK so not just yet! I had to include this because it made me think of Sarah, Plain and Tall. ;) and to prove that she Neville Longbottoms!
  • "Her love of dirt gave way to an inclination for finery, and she grew clean as she grew smart (ahaghaghagh ROTFL - one of my favorite lines in the book); she had now the pleasure of sometimes hearing her father and mother remark on her personal improvement. "Catherine grows quite a good-looking girl—she is almost pretty today," were words which caught her ears now and then; and how welcome were the sounds! To look almost pretty is an acquisition of higher delight to a girl who has been looking plain the first fifteen years of her life than a beauty from her cradle can ever receive." I don't know whether to be delighted or disgusted by this comment. But we'll take it! Things are looking up for Catherine, people!
- Love of books - like any great protagonist, Catherine knows that BOOKS run the world. (Tom N Haverford, Leslie? The N is for NERD! Do you know what his favorite movie is? BOOKS!)
  • "But from fifteen to seventeen she was in training for a heroine; she read all such works as heroines must read to supply their memories with those quotations which are so serviceable and so soothing in the vicissitudes of their eventful lives." so serviceable. so soothing.
- Love life TBD - aaaand, Catherine is just a-twiddling her thumbs in the beginning, bae-less and bff-less, waiting for Mr. Right to find his way to her doorstep. Some of us are just clutching that pearl without price and Waiting attentively for Mr. Right. ;)
  • "She had reached the age of seventeen, without having seen one amiable youth who could call forth her sensibility, without having inspired one real passion, and without having excited even any admiration but what was very moderate and very transient."
Henry Tilney, aka Catherine's caRush:
Henry was an intriguing love interest for Catherine, as he reminded me initially of a Wickham or a Willoughby, and I wasn't entirely sure whether he would turn out to be wicked or wonderful. SPOILER ALERT #2: ANSWER IS WONDERFUL.

Here is their first exchange: "I have hitherto been very remiss, madam, in the proper attentions of a partner here; I have not yet asked you how long you have been in Bath; whether you were ever here before; whether you have been at the Upper Rooms, the theatre, and the concert; and how you like the place altogether. I have been very negligent—but are you now at leisure to satisfy me in these particulars? If you are I will begin directly."
"You need not give yourself that trouble, sir."
"No trouble, I assure you, madam." Then forming his features into a set smile, and affectedly softening his voice, he added, with a simpering air, "Have you been long in Bath, madam?"
"About a week, sir," replied Catherine, trying not to laugh.
"Really!" with affected astonishment.
"Why should you be surprised, sir?"
"Why, indeed!" said he, in his natural tone.

Henry, after Catherine calls a book 'nice': "I am sure," cried Catherine, "I did not mean to say anything wrong; but it is a nice book, and why should not I call it so?"
"Very true," said Henry, "and this is a very nice day, and we are taking a very nice walk, and you are two very nice young ladies. Oh! It is a very nice word indeed! It does for everything. Originally perhaps it was applied only to express neatness, propriety, delicacy, or refinement—people were nice in their dress, in their sentiments, or their choice. But now every commendation on every subject is comprised in that one word." Mrs. Hibshman, my 7th grade English teacher, was vehemently opposed to the word 'nice', and felt that it had been dramatically overused. She and Henry can host the anti-'nice' convening. I can tell you what it won't be - it won't be a NICE affair!

Catherine + Isabella = BFFs (at least in the beGinning, before Isabella gets all Naughty)
"They called each other by their Christian name, were always arm in arm when they walked, pinned up each other's train for the dance, and were not to be divided in the set; and if a rainy morning deprived them of other enjoyments, they were still resolute in meeting in defiance of wet and dirt, and shut themselves up, to read novels together. (Doesn't that sound LOVELY? READING NOVELS together? Mar and I are going to read LOADS of novels together one day.) Yes, novels; for I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom so common with novel-writers, of degrading by their contemptuous censure the very performances, to the number of which they are themselves adding—joining with their greatest enemies in bestowing the harshest epithets on such works, and scarcely ever permitting them to be read by their own heroine, who, if she accidentally take up a novel, is sure to turn over its insipid pages with disgust. Alas! If the heroine of one novel be not patronized by the heroine of another, from whom can she expect protection and regard? I cannot approve of it." It's so interesting to me that novels used to be vilified; they are quite revered in our present culture, and it's hard to imagine them ever being considered 'trashy'. But I love that not only is Austen putting herself out there aggressively as a female author, male pseudonym-free, but she is also taking an aggressive stance to defend her lady writer counterparts. Boo-yah, Jane! 

A defense of novels
"Although our productions have afforded more extensive and unaffected pleasure than those of any other literary corporation in the world, no species of composition has been so much decried. From pride, ignorance, or fashion, our foes are almost as many as our readers..."I am no novel-reader—I seldom look into novels—Do not imagine that I often read novels." Such is the common cant. "And what are you reading, Miss—?" "Oh! It is only a novel!" replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. "It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda"; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language." Fear not, Jane. It may have taken a century or so, but when I read, I never tell someone it's 'only a novel'. On the contrary - I PROUDLY Admit it! ;)

Henry Tilney, on novels:
Catherine, to Henry: "But you never read novels, I dare say?"
"Why not?"
"Because they are not clever enough for you—gentlemen read better books."
"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid. SWOON!! This is when I fell in love with Henry - step aside, Catherine, there's a line!

The black veil (no, not the one Sirius fell behind! sad face!)
We've already established that Isabella is quite naughty, but she is pleasant in the bosom-buddy-novel-reading-phase of the friendship. Here's an exchange between Isabella and Catherine:
"Have you gone on with Udolpho?"
"Yes, I have been reading it ever since I woke; and I am got to the black veil."
"Are you, indeed? How delightful! Oh! I would not tell you what is behind the black veil for the world! Are not you wild to know?"
"Oh! Yes, quite; what can it be? But do not tell me—I would not be told upon any account. I know it must be a skeleton, I am sure it is Laurentina's skeleton." I loved this. Not only do I love that the BFFs are reading novels and sharing their reading experience (which is OBVIOUSLY something I am very much Pro) but it made me think of several of my friends (Ahem, Susan A., Margalit M.) who may have a penchant for asking an aggressively large amount of leading questions while watching television and movies. I would not for the WORLD tell you what is behind the veil, friends! Ask away!

I'm terribly sorry. How rude of me! I haven't offered you a break! Why don't you eat a peppermint, or a chocolate frog, and then Come Right Back. 


All done? Yum yum? OK, and we're off (to the races) again!

Weather as prognosticator, both metaphoric and literal 
Weather is a common motif in the novels I've read for these lists, and some of my favorite scenes spring from something as simple as rain. Here's the scene from Northanger, followed by a few others it brought to mind:
On a day when Catherine was to walk out with Henry and Eleanor: "The morrow brought a very sober-looking morning, the sun making only a few efforts to appear, and Catherine augured from it everything most favourable to her wishes. A bright morning so early in the year, she allowed, would generally turn to rain, but a cloudy one foretold improvement as the day advanced. She applied to Mr. Allen for confirmation of her hopes, but Mr. Allen, not having his own skies and barometer about him, declined giving any absolute promise of sunshine. [Promising, no? And then later, after the rain...]"It was such a nice-looking morning! I felt so convinced it would be dry!"

Sense and Sensibility
Marianne: 'It will not rain.'
Margaret:' You Always say that, and it Always does!'

A Farewell to Arms
Catherine: "Listen to it rain."
Henry: "It's raining hard."
"And you'll always love me, won't you?"
"And the rain won't make any difference?"
"That's good. Because I'm afraid of the rain."
I don't know, darling. I've always been afraid of the rain." I just noticed that they're Catherine and Henry, too! But a much happier ending here for this Catherine and Henry than that pair. 

Anne (of Green Gables) Shirley, on the day Mrs. Allan (the minister's wife) invites her to tea
"The rustle of the poplar leaves about the house worried her, it sounded so like pattering rain drops, and the dull, faraway roar of the gulf, to which she listened delightedly at other times, loving its strange, sonorous, haunting rhythm, now seemed like a prophecy of storm and disaster to a small maiden who particularly wanted a fine day."

To the Lighthouse -- Mr. Ramsay claims that the clouds ominously portend rain for the coming day, and Mrs. Ramsay says to her son James, who desperately wants to visit the lighthouse tomorrow, "Perhaps you will wake up and find the sun shining and the birds singing." I think of this line every time I want a fine day instead of a rainy one.

The Great Gatsby -- When it stops raining, Fitzgerald uses the weather as a metaphor for Gatsby and Daisy's love being rekindled. "When [Gatsby] realized what [Nick] was talking about, he smiled like a weather man, like an ecstatic patron of recurrent light, and repeated the news to Daisy. "What do you think of that? It's stopped raining."

Meant, sent, heard
One of my favorite scenes in the book (it's a little mean, I know, but it's so Funny! you'll fall off your chair!) is when John, Isabella's brother, thinks he's succesfully 'pre-proposed' to Catherine, and she is Not on the same wavelength At. All. 

John, to Catherine, after Isabella and James have gotten engaged: "And then you know"—twisting himself about and forcing a foolish laugh—"I say, then you know, we may try the truth of this same old song."
"May we? But I never sing. Well, I wish you a good journey. I dine with Miss Tilney today, and must now be going home."

John:"But you have more good nature and all that, than anybody living, I believe. A monstrous deal of good nature, and it is not only good nature, but you have so much, so much of everything; and then you have such—upon my soul, I do not know anybody like you."
"Oh! dear, there are a great many people like me, I dare say, only a great deal better. Good morning to you."

John: "But I say, Miss Morland, I shall come and pay my respects at Fullerton before it is long, if not disagreeable."
"Pray do. My father and mother will be very glad to see you."
"And I hope—I hope, Miss Morland, you will not be sorry to see me."
"Oh! dear, not at all. There are very few people I am sorry to see. Company is always cheerful." HAGHAGHAGHagahghaghagagh. "I never sing. Company is always cheerful." LOVE IT. Needless to say, she is Hella confused when Isabella tries to congratulate her later. 

Northanger - spoOOky, or maybe just sedentary?
Part of the fun of this novel, and what sets it apart from the other Austens, is that it plays around with Gothic themes. Austen ends up brilliantly evoking them, while simultaneously pointing out that there's plenty of drama in very Real life. 

Here's when Henry tries to scare/scintillate Catherine as they are nearing Northanger:
"You must be aware that when a young lady is (by whatever means) introduced into a dwelling of this kind, she is always lodged apart from the rest of the family. While they snugly repair to their own end of the house, she is formally conducted by Dorothy, the ancient housekeeper, up a different staircase, and along many gloomy passages, into an apartment never used since some cousin or kin died in it about twenty years before. Can you stand such a ceremony as this? Will not your mind misgive you when you find yourself in this gloomy chamber— too lofty and extensive for you, with only the feeble rays of a single lamp to take in its size—its walls hung with tapestry exhibiting figures as large as life, and the bed, of darkgreen stuff or purple velvet, presenting even a funereal appearance? Will not your heart sink within you?" This made me think of one of my favorite lines from Jane Eyre - 'Daylight began to forsake the red room."

"How fearfully will you examine the furniture of your apartment! And what will you discern? Not tables, toilettes, wardrobes, or drawers, but on one side perhaps the remains of a broken lute (Gasp! a broken lute! what can it signify??), on the other a ponderous chest which no efforts can open, and over the fireplace the portrait of some handsome warrior, whose features will so incomprehensibly strike you, that you will not be able to withdraw your eyes from it (oh my! a handome warrior!). Dorothy, meanwhile, no less struck by your appearance, gazes on you in great agitation, and drops a few unintelligible hints. To raise your spirits, moreover, she gives you reason to suppose that the part of the abbey you inhabit is undoubtedly haunted, and informs you that you will not have a single domestic within call. With this parting cordial she curtsies off—you listen to the sound of her receding footsteps as long as the last echo can reach you—and when, with fainting spirits, you attempt to fasten your door, you discover, with increased alarm, that it has no lock." heh. heh. heh. ;)

Sorry to disappoint, BUT, this is NOT that kind of novel
Jane teases us a bit, bandying around what *could* have happened, but what didn't actually happen:
  • When Mrs. Allen and Catherine depart for Bath: "Under these unpromising auspices, the parting took place, and the journey began. It was performed with suitable quietness and uneventful safety. Neither robbers nor tempests befriended them, nor one lucky overturn to introduce them to the hero. Nothing more alarming occurred than a fear, on Mrs. Allen's side, of having once left her clogs behind her at an inn, and that fortunately proved to be groundless." hagh! Thank Goodness! no one likes to leave their Clogs behind!
  • What is this manuscript in the ponderous chest? Could it be? It's....a..... Linens bill! Catherine gets a litte-too-titillated by Henry's stories, and she imagines some things to be a bit more mysterious than they are at Northanger. My favorite is when she assumes that because Henry's mom "died" a while back, and the General seems cagey about it, PROBABLY the mom is secretly still alive and being kept HOSTAGE in her Very Own House! (Spoiler #3: she isn't. she's dead.) Here's Henry, putting her to rights:
--"Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. What have you been judging from? Remember the country and the age in which we live. Remember that we are English, that we are Christians. Consult your own understanding, your own sense of the probable, your own observation of what is passing around you. Does our education prepare us for such atrocities? Do our laws connive at them? Could they be perpetrated without being known, in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing, where every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay everything open? Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting?" I love that last line. He's like, Look, Sweetie, I LOVE a good novel, meself, Too, but you need to Dial it Down a Notch, KK?

-- In keeping with her anti-heroine beginnings, Catherine has a rather humble return home: "A heroine returning, at the close of her career, to her native village, in all the triumph of recovered reputation, and all the dignity of a countess, with a long train of noble relations in their several phaetons, and three waiting-maids in a travelling chaise and four, behind her, is an event on which the pen of the contriver may well delight to dwell; it gives credit to every conclusion, and the author must share in the glory she so liberally bestows. But my affair is widely different; I bring back my heroine to her home in solitude and disgrace; and no sweet elation of spirits can lead me into minuteness. A heroine in a hack post-chaise is such a blow upon sentiment, as no attempt at grandeur or pathos can withstand."

One of my other favorite lines in the book, said to Eleanor, upon being Rudely Expelled from their house: "Have I offended the general?" said Catherine in a faltering voice."

"From what it could arise, and where it would end, were considerations of equal perplexity and alarm. The manner in which it was done so grossly uncivil, hurrying her away without any reference to her own convenience, or allowing her even the appearance of choice as to the time or mode of her travelling; of two days, the earliest fixed on, and of that almost the earliest hour, as if resolved to have her gone before he was stirring in the morning, that he might not be obliged even to see her." And this is all the reply which I am to have the honour of expecting! I might, perhaps, wish to be informed why, with so little endeavour at civility, I am thus rejected. heh heh. It made me think of poor spurned Darcy ;)

His and Hers - parallel play
Austen does a pretty great job of making her heroine believable but also forceful, but she is still a product of her times. Here's a hilarious his and hers moment, when Henry and Catherine find out they must wait for the General's consent to marry:
"Henry returned to what was now his only home, to watch over his young plantations, and extend his improvements for her sake, to whose share in them he looked anxiously forward; and Catherine
remained at Fullerton to cry." Oh YES. Henry should work, and Catherine should CRY. obviously.

panegyric - a public speech or published text in praise of someone or something

curricle - a light, open, two-wheeled carriage pulled by two horses side by side

chaise and four - a fast carriage for traveling post in the 18th and early 19th centuries; it usually had a closed body on four wheels, sat two to four persons, and was drawn by two or four horses

rhodomontade - boastful or inflated talk or behavior [yes, I know that's a rhodoDendron. I was just testing you to see if you were paying attention.]

A few of my favorite moments
  • Mr. Allen, to Catherine - "Well, Miss Morland," said he, directly, "I hope you have had an agreeable ball."
  • "Very agreeable indeed," she replied, vainly endeavouring to hide a great yawn.
  • "She was soon invited to accept an arm of the eldest Miss Thorpe, and take a turn with her about the room." DO take a turn about the room with me, Miss Eliza, it is SO refreshing.
  • We just got here (we been here an 'arr')They met by appointment; and as Isabella had arrived nearly five minutes before her friend, her first address naturally was, "My dearest creature, what can have made you so late? I have been waiting for you at least this age!"
  • "Have you, indeed! I am very sorry for it; but really I thought I was in very good time. It is but just one. I hope you have not been here long?"
  • "Oh! These ten ages at least. I am sure I have been here this half hour.
Well, I hope you do not feel you have spent ten Ages at least in reading this Blob, although perhaps you Have been here this half hour. I leave you with wishes of great felicity - one of Austen's favorite adjectives, and one which brings me great joy. 

I have a two-hour delay for snowrain (it's NH, don't ask) so I'm not off to bed just yet. Goodnight, dear readers, and join me for The Salsa Princes Play Ditties of Devotion if you're so inclined!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

To be born again, first you have to die. To land upon the bosomy earth, first one needs to fly!

The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
"It was so, it was not, in a long time long forgot..."

I loved this line - a sort of spinoff of 'once upon a time', but with an air of added mystery.
The Satanic Verses is a complex and nuanced tale of the transformation (human, to supernatural/divine, and back again) of two men, Gibreel Farishta and Salahuddin Chamchawala in modern(ish) day India and England. One man becomes the archangel of the Lord (Gibreel) and the other becomes the devil (Salahuddin, or Chamcha). There is a great deal of uncertainty brewing (why us? why now? what does this mean? are we dead? aren't you loving all these questions?) and we follow the two gentlemen as they muddle their way through what would, I imagine, be a challenging conundrum for anyone. After all, most of us don't wake up and expect to be supernaturalized after falling from an exploded plane in the sky. (I'm sorry, I really shouldn't speak for you, dear readers. To use a Breakthrough norm, I'll speak from the I perspective - I don't wake up with this expectation. You might.)

As with some of the other esoteric entries on this list, I took notes along the way, though it's possible they now make sense only to me. I enjoy the bizarre arc; it seems to mimic the nebulous and, at times, nonsensical quality to the book's various storylines.
My favorite bits from my notes:
- Mom/Dad dies (fish, bus, stroke) - these one word explanations I jotted reminded me of 'my mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning)' from Lolita
- Saladin arrested, horns; Gibreel w/Rosa Diamond, halo (one an archangel, one a devil! how better to distinguish the two than by a halo/horns? easy to tell them apart!)
- 'More devilish, then less' - what can I say, the book keeps you on your toes.

I could attempt to outline the various actual 'events' of the book, but (a) I don't think they're essential to a cursory understanding of the book and its overall feel, (2) I don't feel like it, and (d) I'm not entirely sure I would be right about them. This was a doozy, after all. Suffice it to say, the novel is magical and mystical, sometimes morbid, often mysterious, occasionally downright disturbing, and unabashedly and unapologetically abstruse. It is the very definition of a wild ride.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

I vacillated between loving and hating this book. There were parts I found to be brilliant, and other parts I found wholly unnecessary. I think that the writers of yore could have used a stronger editing hand, and Rushdie falls into this collection for me, despite his more contemporary status. I am, as with several of the other arcane novels on my list (Gravity's Rainbow, Ulysses) confident that I missed many things upon my reading, and am willing to own that these missing pieces might enrich my understanding of the more extensive unnecessary tangential chapters. BUT, I continue to argue that my goal is to represent a somewhat 'average' reader; I am well-educated and well-read, but I aspire to experience novels as accessible works of fiction, and will not engage in deep research or rely on external sources to inform my understanding of things I believe should be at least 74.32% readable as standalone works. The book is the source; everything else is essentially hogwash, imho.

This post is meaty (in the words of my sarcastic mother, 'oh, so Different from your last few posts? haHa.hahA. THANKS, 'anonymous' fan ;) so settle in, grab a cocoa, a coffee, or a refreshing cocktail, and hold on to your crayons.

Gibreel Farishta, a.k.a. Ismail Najmuddin -- tiffin carrier, actor, and archangel on the side
Delicate balancing of an inordinately large number of tiffins
"Every day, Mumbai's dabbawalas deliver some 200,000 tiffin boxes of freshly made food from homes to offices in the city." Do you know what tiffins are? The word actually means light lunch, but the term also refers to the metal carrier. I was deLighted to find that tiffins featured heavily in Gibreel's backstory, as I recently purchased a tiffin for our family's Yankee swap at Christmas with our neighbors. Isn't this picture insane? I definitely lack the balance and poise to qualify for that job...

A few of my favorite lines from the book's introductory scene, where Gibreel and Chamcha fall out of an exploded plane (terrorist plot, long story, seriously Don't Even Ask):
  • "The clouds were bubbling up towards them, and perhaps it was on account of that great mystification of cumulus and cumulo-nimbus, the mighty rolling thunderheads standing like hammers in the dawn, or perhaps it was the singing (the one busy performing, the other booing the performance), or their blast-delirium that spared them full foreknowledge of the imminent ... but for whatever reason, the two men, Gibreelsaladin Farishtachamcha, condemned to this endless but also ending angelic devilish fall, did not become aware of the moment at which the processes of their transmutation began." Such a beautiful contrapuntal quality to this.
  • "Gibreel never repudiated the miracle; unlike Chamcha, who tried to reason it out of existence, he never stopped saying that the gazal had been celestial, that without the song the flapping would have been for nothing (HAGH), and without the flapping it was a sure thing that they would have hit the waves like rocks or what and simply burst into pieces on making contact with the taut drum of the sea. Whereas instead they began to slow down. The more emphatically Gibreel flapped and sang, sang and flapped, the more pronounced the deceleration, until finally the two of them were floating down to the Channel like scraps of paper in a breeze." Watch out, Gibreel! Don't let your arms get tired! ;)
  • "Then, however, the pure delight of being surrounded by such a quantity of snow quite overcame his first cynicism - for he was a tropical man - and he started capering about, saturnine and soggy, making snowballs and hurling them at his prone companion, envisioning a snowman, and singing a wild, swooping rendition of the carol 'Jingle Bells.' The first hint of light was in the sky, and on this cosy sea-coast danced Lucifer, the morning's star." I love this image. Probably my favorite line in the whole book.
On failed archangeling - "Even the halo has gone out, like a broken bulb, and I don't know where's the store." This part was hilarious. After Gibreel becomes an archangel and decides he IS going to do his duties as a divine being (and stop getting distracted by his ladylove), he fails miserably, and no one will believe him (and I Can't imagine Why!) Where does one go to find replacement halo bulbs?

Is this divine intervention, or merely madness? I enjoyed the playful/existential exploration of what it would mean to all of a sudden be 'archangeled' in the night. I imagine it would be equal parts exhilarating and terror-inducing, and even the calmest of us would wonder if we had not, in fact, simply lost our marbles (like Tootles).

--"The terror of losing his mind to a paradox, of being unmade by what he no longer believed existed, of turning in his madness into the avatar of a chimerical archangel, was so big in him that it was impossible to look at it for long; yet how else was he to account for the miracles, metamorphoses and apparitions of recent days? 'It's a straight choice,' he trembled silently. 'It's A, I'm off my head, or B, baba, somebody went and changed the rules."
--"This was a man in imminent danger of coming apart at the seams."

Salahuddin Chamchawala, a.k.a. Salad or Chumch -- aristocrat, voice actor, devil on the side
Chamcha's backstory is fascinating - he grows up in a wealthy Indian family, but is possessed  early on with an overwhelming desire to uproot himself and become English. His devilment triggers an intense identity crisis of epic proportions. Here are a few of my favorite exchanges between Chamcha and his mistress, Zeeny Vakil, a deeply country-loving Indian:
  • "'Well, this is what's inside,' he blazed at her. 'An Indian translated into English-medium. When I attempt Hindustani these days, people look polite. This is me.' Caught in the aspic of his adopted language, he had begun to hear, in India's Babel, an ominous warning: don't come back again. When you have stepped through the looking-glass you step back at your peril. The mirror may cut you to shreds." 'caught in the aspic of his adopted language' - brilliant. wacco. wizard. smashing.
  • "'Give up on me,' he begged her. 'I don't like people dropping in to see me without warning, I have forgotten the rules of seventiles and kabaddi, I can't recite my prayers, I don't know what should happen at a nikah ceremony, and in this city where I grew up I get lost if I'm on my own. This isn't home. It makes me giddy because it feels like home and is not. It makes my heart tremble and my head spin." I felt Salad's pain so acutely; he really personifies 'you can't go home again', and he is so completely lost.
What did you dream? I dreamed I tore all the skin off my face and I was someone else underneath...
-- Both Gibreel and Chamcha have pretty intense dreams, but the glass man was my favorite (and the scariest): "He had fallen into a torpid sleep, high above the desert sands of the Persian Gulf, and been visited in a dream by a bizarre stranger, a man with a glass skin, who rapped his knuckles mournfully against the thin, brittle membrane covering his entire body and begged Saladin to help him, to release him from the prison of his skin.

Chamcha is hidden in his new English home, away from white eyes:
  • "Too much," she laughed at him. "They pay you to imitate them, as long as they don't have to look at you. Your voice becomes famous but they hide your face. Got any ideas why? Warts on your nose, cross--eyes, what? Anything come to mind, baby? You goddamn lettuce brain, I swear." Zeeny is pretty hard on Chamcha for becoming a voice actor, pointing out that he may be a celebrity in England, but he is an invisible one, based on the color of his skin. It reminded me of a Chris Rock interview with Terry Gross, where he made this dark joke about voice parts in animated movies: "Oh, if you're white, congratulations, you can be anybody you want in a cartoon film! And if you're black, great news! You can be any animal you choose!" Chamcha seemed lost on many levels, but his racial identity and unwillingness to acknowledge the way it impacted his life in England was perhaps the most interesting (and difficult) to experience with him.
I have the heart of a child. In a jar by my bed. 
  • "I have your soul kept safe, my son, here in this walnut-tree. The devil has only your body. When you are free of him, return and claim your immortal spirit. It flourishes in the garden." I loved this line from Chamcha's father - there is a tree planted in their glorious garden for Chamcha, and the tree is seen as a kind of inheritance, one that is redeemed upon adulthood. 
You can't keep a devil locked up in the attic and expect to keep it to yourself forever. When Chamcha is kicked out by his wife, Pamela, for looking downright devilish (sorry, Couldn't Resist) his friend's family and their daughters take him in and let him stay in their attic (at least until he starts growing).
  • "You're growing out of the attic, anyhow," rejoined Mishal, miffed. "It won't be big enough for you in not too long a while." Obviously this made me think of ever-growing Alice and the lizard, Bill. ;)
  • in the transformation, Chamcha (along with the horns and tail) gets Gibreel's bad breath - what a raw deal! "in the matter of Farishta's halitosis she was not, however, altogether wrong; if anything, she had a little understated the case. Gibreel's exhalations, those ochre clouds of sulphur and brimstone, had always given him -- when taken together with his pronounced widow's peak and crowblack hair -- an air more saturnine than haloed, in spite of his archangelic name. It was said after he disappeared that he ought to have been easy to find, all it took was a halfway decent nose..."
  • Mishal and Anahita, to Chamcha - 'O, excuse me, but Mum says, can you use this, it's mouthwash, for your breath.' hagahgah.
The Devil has many names:
"Satan, being thus confined to a vagabond, wandering, unsettled condition, is without any certain abode; for though he has, in consequence of his angelic nature, a kind of empire in the liquid waste or air, yet this is certainly part of his punishment, that he is . . . without any fixed place, or space, allowed him to rest the sole of his foot upon." Daniel Defoe, The History of the Devil

I think I will always imagine the Devil as the villain in Legend (see left). That's certainly how I imagined poor Chamcha as he was transforming, though a little less red and more human-looking. Here are a few other names used in this book:

- Shaitan
- Satan
- Beelzebub
- Neechayvala, the Man from Underneath (I love this one)
- Lucifer (I knew I knew this name from somewhere. I googled 'lucifer cat' on a whim and There he was, chasing poor GusGus!)
- Azazel (debatable)

Alleluia Cone -- climber of Everest, ice queen, main squeeze of Gibreel
Alleluia (Allie) Cone is Gibreel's lover (well, one of them); they meet just before he dies and revives:
  • "He looked up from his plate to find a woman watching him. Her hair was so fair that it was almost white, and her skin possessed the colour and translucency of mountain ice. She laughed at him and turned away. "Don't you get it?" he shouted after her, spewing sausage fragments from the corners of his mouth. "No thunderbolt. That's the point." She came back to stand in front of him. "You're alive," she told him. "You got your life back. That's the point." I love this exchange - Gibreel has stopped believing in God after a near-death illness, and is stuffing his face with Islam-verboten pork, when he first meets Allie for their meet-cute.
Pearl without price - Alleluia's father calls her his 'pearl without price' - not quite the same as the pearl without price in Elizabeth's case from Baldwin... ;) I'm pretty sure her pearl without price was sold a while ago...whoops!
  • He told her: he fell from the sky and lived. She took a deep breath and believed him, because of her father's faith in the myriad and contradictory possibilities of life, and because, too, of what the mountain had taught her. "Okay," she said, exhaling. "I'll buy it. Just don't tell my mother, all right?" The universe was a place of wonders, and only habituation, the anaesthesia of the everyday, dulled our sight. Allie is one of the only people who just downright believes Gibreel, and I love this -- 'the anaesthesia of the everyday'. So true!
  • Allie, on Gibreel: "It wasn't the only thing about him that drove her crazy. She'd pour glasses of wine; he'd drink his fast and then, when she wasn't looking, grab hers, placating her with an angelic-faced, ultra-innocent "Plenty more, isn't it?" ahgahgahgahgaghahgahgahahga. Oh Gibreel. He's also described as quite a slob of a roommate, being habituated to servants as a famous film star back in India. #archangelscanthaveeverything
Pamela Lovelace -- activist, wife of Chamcha, lover of Jumpy Joshi, non-believer
  • "Pamela's taboos: jokes about her background, mentions of whisky-bottle "dead soldiers", and any suggestion that her late husband, the actor Saladin Chamcha, was still alive, living across town in a bed and breakfast joint, in the shape of a supernatural beast." Unlike Allie and her instantaneous faith, Pamela refuses to accept that her husband, Chamcha, was turned into a devil and did not die from a multi-thousand foot fall from the sky. Pretty sane response, if you ask me! Though amusing, given that the corporeal Chamcha very much wants to be acknowledged by his wife (and allowed to return to his own home and sleep in his bed). 
  • Exchange between Pamela and Chamcha after she inexplicably shaves her head and starts wearing a turban one day: "It just happened," she said. "One must not rule out the possibility that I have been bewitched." He wasn't standing for that. "Or the notion of a reaction, however delayed, to the news of your husband's altered, but extant, state." ahghaghaga - altered, but extant. LOVE.
She swung to face him, halfway up the stairs to the bedroom, and pointed dramatically towards the open sitting-room door. "In that case," she triumphed, "why did it also happen to the dog?" ahghagha

S. S. Sisodia (aka Whiskey) - st-st-stutterer, sh-sh-shyster, s-s-sidekick to angel and devil alike
  • He cheered up as stewardesses approached. 'I will confess to being a mem member of the mile high cluck cluck club,' he said gaily within the attendants' hearing. 'And you? Should I see what I can ficfic fix?' HiLarious. Sisodia popped up in the most random ways, but I found him quite lovable after awhile.
OK, it's probably time you took a break. I took a LOT of breaks when I was reading this book (and writing this blob!) Visit the restroom, pet your koala, stretch your legs, get the mail, make a cup of boozy cocoa. In the meantime, here are a few tiny questions to ponder:
  • How does newness come into the world? How is it born? Of what fusions, translations, conjoinings is it made? any ideas? no? not sure? darn. me neither. 
  • Is birth always a fall? well if we came from the STORK it sure is! ;)
  • Do angels have wings? OBVIOUSLY. that's what ringing bells is for.
  • Can men fly? idk. WOMEN can, because we're Awesome. 
  • What is the opposite of faith? Not disbelief. Too final, certain, closed. Itself a kind of belief. Doubt. non-faith? bad faith? this one is so Tricksy.
  • What is the meaning of life? I stole this one from Hitchhiker's. You know this! It's 42!
ARE YOU BACK? DID YOU PET YOUR KOALA? I'm So excited to spend more time with you.

Titlipur -- home to Mirza, Mishal, Ayesha, Osman, the banyan-tree, and the butterflies
Titlipur is the setting for one of the various side-stories that just barely abuts Gibreel and Chamcha's main plotline. It reminded me very much of Macondo, the magical town in 'One Hundred Years of Solitude' - "the yellow butterflies would invade the house at dusk."
  • "When you awoke you found the butterflies sleeping on your cheeks." There are butterflies everywhere, particularly in connection to the mysterious Ayesha. I don't think I would enjoy having butterflies sleeping on my cheeks, no matter how pretty it sounds in theory. Don't you think it would be quite ticklish?
    This fan contraption is a punkah, in case you were curious!
  • "On the seventh day after her disappearance Ayesha was sighted walking towards the village, naked again and dressed in golden butterflies, her silver hair streaming behind her in the breeze." from now on, I shall clothe myself ONLY in insects. Today, caterpillars - tomorrow, grasshoppers. If you could only wear insects for clothing, what would you choose?
  • Mirza's impression of the town when he alone returns from a pilgrimage led by Ayesha:"Moths had eaten the punkahs of Peristan and the library had been consumed by a billion hungry worms. When he turned on the taps, snakes oozed out instead of water, and creepers had twined themselves around the four-poseter bed in which Viceroys had once slept. It was as if time had accelerated in his absence, and centuries had somehow elapsed instead of months, so that when he touched the giant Persian carpet rolled up in the ballroom it crumbled under his hand, and the baths were full of frogs with scarlet eyes." Probably my other favorite passage.
Z is for zeugma and that's good enough for me
Have you heard of zeugma? It's widely acclaimed as the Best Literary Device of All Time (#byme #whoelsematters?). If you're not familiar with it, it's "a figure of speech in which a word applies to two others in different senses (e.g., John and his license expired last week ) or to two others of which it semantically suits only one (e.g., with weeping eyes and hearts)". Rushdie seems to be a fan, TOO! (frabjous day!)
  • 'Now, sitting up in bed with a thumb instead of a bottle, his secret and his hangover banging equally painfully inside his head (he had never been a drinking or a secretive man)'
  • "While Hind hurled imprecations into the chicken soup"; 'too immersed in chicken soup and misery to speak for himself"
Isn't it just the MOST fun?! 

Time for a Very Vigorous Vocab Lesson. Rushdie is one of the authors who makes me feel inadequate - his English vocabulary far outpaces mine AND he speaks multiple languages. Le sigh!

gazal - (in Middle Eastern and Indian literature and music) a lyric poem with a fixed number of verses and a repeated rhyme, typically on the theme of love, and normally set to music

sibilance - having, containing, or producing the sound of or a sound resembling that of the s or the sh in sash; speech sound having a hissing effect (i just like to SAY sibilance. Sibilance. Ssssibilance.)

snipe - a wading bird of marshes and wet meadows, with brown camouflaged plumage, a long straight bill, and typically a drumming display flight (if I were a bird, I think I should like to be a snipe.)

manticore - a mythical beast typically depicted as having the body of a lion, the face of a man, and the sting of a scorpion (put simply, TERRIFYING. don't google this if you don't want nightmares)

orotund - (of the voice or phrasing) full, round, and imposing; (of writing, style, or expression) pompous; pretentious (OH OK so Ludo Bagman)

quiddity - the inherent nature or essence of someone or something; a distinctive feature; a peculiarity

zamindar - on the Indian subcontinent, an aristocrat, typically hereditary, who held enormous tracts of land and held control over the peasants, from whom the zamindars reserved the right to collect tax (often for military purposes) (Mirza is the zamindar of Titlipur/Peristan)

banyan-tree - an Indian fig tree whose branches produce aerial roots that later become accessory trunks; a mature tree may cover several acres in this manner (this tree is AMAZING. Titlipur is centered around one huge banyan-tree, and when Mirza dies after the pilgrimage, the tree burns to ash. Epic moment in the book.)

farrago - a confused mixture; a hodgepodge (Meredith's blob entries are always a farrago of ideas!)


Magical moments 
  • "He would blink, and the illusion would fade, but the sense of it never left him. He grew up believing in God, angels, demons, afreets, djinns, as matter-of-factly as if they were bullock-carts or lamp-posts, and it struck him as a failure in his own sight that he had never seen a ghost. He would dream of discovering a magic optometrist from whom he would purchase a pair of greentinged spectacles which would correct his regrettable myopia, and after that he would be able to see through the dense, blinding air to the fabulous world beneath." OK, I lied. These are my favorite lines in the book. I would like to buy those greentinged spectacles, please, too! Anyone else want to place their order?
  • When Gibreel decides to take extreme action as an archangel: "Gibreel Farishta floating on his cloud formed the opinion that the moral fuzziness of the English was meteorologically induced. 'When the day is not warmer than the night,' he reasoned, 'when the light is not brighter than the dark, when the land is not drier than the sea, then clearly a people will lose the power to make distinctions, and commence to see everything -- from political parties to sexual partners to religious beliefs -- as much-the-same, nothing-to-choose, give-or-take. What folly! For truth is extreme, it is so-and-not-thus, it is him-and not-her; a partisan matter, not a spectator sport. It is, in brief, 'heated'. City,' he cried, and his voice rolled over the metropolis like thunder, 'I am going to tropicalize you.'" I found this hilarious.
  • "Cloudy Rekha murmured sour nothings" Rekha Merchant didn't make the blob to this point, which is not really fair, as she plays a pretty major role, even if it is mostly in making Gibreel go Super Crazy after he's archangeled. She has an affair with him (way before the archangeling), and then kills herself and her children when she thinks he has died (but then whoops he comes back to life and she is still dead). So she haunts him! #everyonewins I love the idea of 'sour nothings' as a counterpoint to sweet nothings ;) Makes me think of Wormtongue in LOTR.
  • "He knew that his father had finally run hard enough and long enough to wear down the frontiers between the worlds, he had run clear out of his skin and into the arms of his wife, to whom he had proved, once and for all, the superiority of his love." epically great line.
  • "because the universe of his nightmares had begun to leak into his waking life" -- This reminded me of one of my favorite Proust quotes from YBN, on waking from a nightmare: "a smile of joy, of pious thanksgiving to God who is pleased to grant that life shall be less cruel than our dreams."
If you liked SV (or the idea of it) then allow me to suggest these selections:
  • The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov -- interesting political discourse, also features an incarnation of the devil, hints of magical realism, and cats with gilded whiskers!
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude or Love in the Time of Cholera - both great reads just generally speaking, but interesting pairings to Rushdie -- I mean, Marquez basically inVented magical realism, so why not go to the source? 
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being -- again, some interesting political commentary, and the lyrical quality of Kundera's writing very beautifully echoes that of Rushdie's, imho
Well, congratulations if you made it through this blob entry. Pat yourself (and your hedgehog, and your koala) on the back. I'll leave you with a final paradoxical series of thoughts:

Gibreel and Chamcha are, by design, opposite sides of a very similar coin. Their lives have multiple points of alignment, they are similar in age, and it is not clear at all why one should be be-angeled and the other be-deviled. I am SURE this is one of those big takeaways I'm supposed to have caught on to, but I'm not sure I am supposed to do anything more than wrestle with the concept. Here is the crux of their contradiction:

-- "Gibreel is fast becoming the sum of Saladin's defeats." Gibreel starts out with much of the luck (if you can call being diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic lucky) in the supernatural switcheroo, but as time goes on, Chamcha has his revenge of sorts, and then a genuine change of heart. 

-- "For are they not conjoined opposites, these two, each man the other's shadow?" What are angels and devils if not opposites? Does one require the other in order to exist? 

-- "Which is it to be? Annihilation or salvation?" Someone who recognizes Gibreel as the archangel asks this question. Oddly, while Rushdie drops some heavy foreshadowing of 'the end is nigh'-variety, nothing happens in the end but more of the status quo. But I think that's the question anyone asks, regardless of their belief in a higher power. If, all of a sudden, we are sent a supernatural judger, is it because we are to be destroyed, or because we are to be saved?

Because I, like Anne, believe, despite everything, that people are really good at heart, I will leave you with these two tidbits:
-- "Is it possible that evil is never total, that its victory, no matter how overwhelming, is never absolute?"
-- "It seemed that in spite of all his wrong-doing, weakness, guilt - in spite of his humanity - he was getting another chance."

So go forth in the world, and know that evil is never total, and when you can, do good. Think of our other esoteric friend, Mr. Joyce, and one of my favorite lines from Ulysses:
"And thanks be to God, Johnny,' said Mr. Dedalus, that we lived so long and did so little harm.'
'But did so much good, Simon,' said the little old man gravely. 'Thanks be to God we lived so long and did so much good."

I'm off to Southrage Convent with my chunky koala cat. Keep each other safe. Keep faith. Good night.