Wet and Aggressive Corella challenges Magpie

Wet and Aggressive Corella challenges Magpie

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

NaNoReMo

March was NaNoReMo - or National Novel Reading Month.  Specifically, a month for us to read a classic novel that for one reason or another we have been putting off.  Essentially NaNoReMo is a support system.  It isn't a book club and participants choose their own book - which may or may not be one read by other participants.  At the end (or earlier) participants blog or tweet about their experience.  I don't tweet, so blogging it is.
John Wiswell gave me the impetus to play and I have joined him, and others.

I chose Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children which had been languishing in my unread tower (there are too many books in it for it to be a pile).



I opened it with a lot of anticipation.  It has received the Booker Prize, the James Tait Black prize and also the Booker's Booker Prize, for the best book awarded the Booker Prize in its first twenty-five years.

It is set in India, a country I visited too briefly many years ago, find fascinating and loved.  The narrator and major protagonist, Saleem Sinai, is twinned with India's Independence being born at the same time, midnight precisely on August 15th 1947.  He is also tied in complicated, obscure and dangerous ways to every other child born in India during that fateful midnight hour.

So far so good.   Rushdie captured the India I experienced superbly:  the vitality, the chaos, the noise, the beauty, the dirt, the wealth, the poverty, the cruelty, some kindness, tradition, the superstitions, the food, the religions and both the complete unpredictability of some things and the predictability of others.  And, much later in the novel (for complicated plot reasons) the smells...

But.  And it is a big but.  I kept putting it down and found it harder and harder to pick it up again.  I always have at least two books on the go at once, but in the time it took me to wrestle this one into submission I had read four other books.  And yearned to start others.

Character is important to me.  I don't have to like the characters, and I certainly don't have to approve of their actions, but I do have to be interested in what they will do next.  And I wasn't.  As Saleem lurched from crisis to crisis I just didn't care.  Occasionally I would develop an interest in one of the multitudinous sub-plots - and then the novel would skitter off into another direction.  And I have had more success in herding cats than I did in maintaining my interest long enough to track down and follow that plot to its conclusion.

I did finish it - though will admit to some skimming.  There is one less book in my unread tower, but a part of me resents the time I expended on it.  It is a huge and multi-layered book, from every perspective.  There are nearly 650 pages in the edition I read, and it covers a tumultuous period in India's (and Pakistan's and Bangladesh's) history.  Rushdie tidied away an impossible (albeit self created) number of loose ends.  However, I would classify my experience with it as a D minus.  There are some undeniable strengths, but they aren't strong enough to make me like it, much less love it.  I would be interested in hearing about other peoples' experience with this book.  And I hope that other participants in NaNoReMo had much more joy than I did with their chosen classic. 

95 comments:

  1. Bummer you didn't connect with the characters. That's important to me as well.

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    1. Alex J. Cavanaugh: Given how busy you are at the moment with the A to Z insanity I am amazed that you find time to drop in. Thank you. And I so nearly connected with Saleem - but failed.

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  2. Salman Rushdie is a lovely man, love him.

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    1. Bob Bushell: I didn't love this book of his though.

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  3. Some people love characterization, others like plot. I'd rather be invested in the characters myself. Life's too short. I've been putting down books lately that don't grab me within a few pages (which is much easier to do with a Kindle and the free sample). I think that governs it, really. I haven't invested the money to plow on. :)

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    1. River Fairchild: In the past I finished every book I started. No longer. And if I hadn't made a commitment to finish this one it would have gone to the recycle pile fairly quickly. I won't be keeping it to try again.

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    2. I'm with you, EC. I used to keep on ploughing through a book I wasn't enjoying simply because I felt I "HAD" to finish it once I had started. (Who was in my head telling me that, I wonder? My mother? My English teachers?)

      A few years ago I decided that life is too short, and there are too many books I want to read, to read something I didn't want to finish - or start, for that matter.

      Salman Rushdie is almost certainly a wonderful man and a great writer, but he's never been on my 'To Read' pile. Sometimes you just know that a certain book is not going to be your kind of book. Well I do, anyway.

      And you've just confirmed why!

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    3. Alexia: The voices in our heads who tell us we HAVE to do something are pretty mean aren't they? And play dirty. It took me quite a while to decide that I didn't have to finish every book. And I have benefited from the decision.
      Mind you, I am certainly not saying that no-one will enjoy Midnight's Children - or worse that it is a BAD book. It isn't - but it isn't for me either.

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  4. Interesting. I've had the same thing happen a few times, with books I had high hopes for, in terms of gripping me, yet they couldn't hold me fast when I finally got there.

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    1. All Consuming: I know. It is sad isn't it? And this one was soooo much easier to put down than to pick up.

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  5. You are tough stuff to keep on reading...if I lose connection with a story I just toss it and move on.

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    1. Delores: In the interest of fairness I give books a fair reading before I toss them, but some of them beg to go to the recycling pile in the sky early. And this one should have gone to someone else long before it did. They may love it - I didn't.

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  6. I've started several books that I'll admit are beautifiully written, but couldn't finish. I think they fall flat on the conflict and stakes thing. I love a good bit of literature, but it still needs to have some teeth.

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    1. M Pax: I am an eclectic reader. I love literature, but also have a big weakness for escapism and comfort reads too. This one didn't do it for me - but there are PLENTY of books that do. And will be plenty more.

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  7. Many books I've read recently have been awarded prizes and are not easy reads but well worth the time, I find that nowadays I am drawn to these types of books unlike the past when I liked a good fast paced mystery, this one seems to be right up my alley.

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    1. Linda Starr: I hope you enjoy it. I don't shy away from challenging or 'difficult' books. This one didn't enrich my life and I am glad to have finished it.

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  8. I have many books on my book shelf, and now in my Kindle, that I haven't finished. Sometimes I'll try again later and it might fit my mood, but if I try as many times as you did with this one, I wouldn't have finished it. I can cross this one off my list. Oh, wait: I don't have one. :-)

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    1. DJan: Don't rely on me - plenty of people did think that this one was an amazing and incredible book. I didn't - but that is only me.

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  9. How interesting you took this on...and finished. I never used to shy away from long or difficult books. But as I age I find concentration can be harder...and I feel like I just done have enough days left to read all I want anyway so if the book does offer something special (even if just escape), I move on. I used to read every book and every magazine from cover to cover...somewhere along the line I gave myself permission to quit!

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    1. Bookie: As a rule these days I will put a book away if I have put it down too many times. I had made a commitment to myself to finish this one. I won't be rereading it though - or rushing to read another Rushdie novel. A memoir could well be a different question entirely.

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  10. I read books like this and I admit it is very hard going, I read for enjoyment and if I'm not enjoying it I will never finish it.
    Merle................

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    1. Merlesworld: I read for enjoyment, for education, for amusement, for comfort. Which covers a lot of genres.

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  11. If I don't enjoy a book, I do leave it.

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    1. Romance Book Haven: Welcome. Mostly these days I can walk away from books. Too many books and not enough time is a far summation of my world.

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  12. You did very well to finish it.
    My (easily distracted) mind starts to wander if I can't get engrossed within the first few chapters. At that point, the book finds its way to the second hand bookshop for a second chance with someone else.
    Like movies, not all books are to everyone's taste - thankfully.

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    1. Vicki: This one will certainly go into the next bookfair - and I hope its next purchaser gets more out of it than I did.

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  13. Too often I have bought books like that to read while I am flying somewhere. I am forced to read them because I am trapped. I always leave them behind, even of I have not finished them.

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    1. Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe: I am very, very careful about what books I take with me when travelling. And it is books in the plural.

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  14. Well done on finishing that book; I don't like to have to struggle to read, either, and won't do it unless I am trying to learn something important to me. I like to hear/read reports on books so I can steer toward or away from them, so thank you for giving us this one.

    What will you be reading now that you've finished it?

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    1. jenny_o: I have read some incredibly confronting books when (for one reason or another) I felt I needed to. This didn't come into that category. Sadly, I found it tedious and unrewarding. Which is a reflection of me, rather than the book.
      I have read a few other books since I finished Midnight's Children (they are listed above it on my side-bar). I have a memoir of an Australian political activist and feminist open but I am leaning towards light fiction for the next, but could change my mind at any time. Probably will change my mind.

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  15. i like this NaNoReMo! Reminds me that i am horribly estranged from the act of reading BOOKS. i might do an out-of-cycle novel for April...

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    1. daisyfae: Which one? Do you have any ideas yet?

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  16. Once again I congratulate you on your critique of this book. You do an amazing job.
    I read out your comments to Phil who says he had the same problem with Satanic Verses and is pretty sure he didn't finish that book which is unusual for him. He usually plods on through what I call very dry reads.
    My days of serious reading are long gone and I now just enjoy easy to read novels and particularly mysteries.

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    1. Mimsie: How fascinating to hear that Phil had very similar difficulties with Satanic Verses to those I had with Midnight's Children. I wonder whether it is his style which just doesn't gel for us. As you know, I read from a broad range of genres. Mind you, I have a weakness for mysteries. And children's books. And silliness.

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  17. "...I do have to be interested in what they will do next..."
    Me too, and if I put it down more than twice through lack of interest, I won't pick it up again. Now and again over the years, I've struggled through a book waiting for that spark of interest and it just isn't worth it for me. Time is too short and books too plentiful for me to waste a minute on something that "goes nowhere".

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    1. River: If I hadn't made a commitment (to myself) to read a classic in March I would have walked away from it. And there are almost certainly other 'classics' in my tower I could have (should have?) picked up...

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  18. I get really annoyed when a book doesn't "grab" me. It's very frustrating.

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    1. Lee: It can be, but there is always another book which will. Often rather a lot of other books.

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  19. I've never really felt inspired to read his books, now I know why. :) I didn't know about NaNoReMo - I might have chosen Jane Austin (one of her books) - I've never really read them, just loved the movies. I suppose I still can do that. :)

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    1. Lynn: I have loved Jane Austen for a long time - to the point where I can't watch the movies because they will not fit the images resident in my head. I will be interested to hear what you think of her work.

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  20. Interesting observations and well done for sticking with it to the end. I have to say that I've often found Rushdie to be an incredibly hard slog to read. There is no doubt that he is very clever with words and images, but sometimes it's like wading through treacle and I want to scream out "Get to the bloody point!" He's one of those writers I felt that I "ought" to appreciate as I'm an avid reader and he is highly lauded, but somehow I never really got involved in his meandering tales (the only one that was sort of okay was "The Ground Beneath Her Feet"). And I generally like Indian novels.

    I'm also at a similar point with a book I'm reading ("The Tiger's Wife" by Téa Obreht). She's a very good writer, it deals with an interesting period and place (the aftermath of the Balkans War) and is full of wonderful fables from the region, BUT... I can't connect with the main character, I find the switch between past and present every other chapter to be disruptive and frankly I've given up caring about "the mystery". I wish she'd either told the grandfather's story or the granddaughter's story, rather than a mishmash of both.

    But I'll finish it or the voice in my head will badger me.... a pox on Catholic guilt.

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    1. Marie: I am having similar problems with The Tiger's Wife. To the point where it has been closed with a book mark in it for many, many months.
      I am interested in the fact that no-one has popped up and told me that they love Rushdie's writing. There must be some...

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    2. I just finished it today and wondered why I bothered. She tries to cover too much ground and never quite gets there in the end.

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    3. Marie: I was afraid of that. She might have to remain partially ready by me for a while yet.

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  21. I never check anything out at the library by Rushdie. I fear I will be followed home by assassins. Isn't there still a fatwa out against him?

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    1. Grannie Annie: As far as I know the fatwa is still in place. I am not sure that anything except death CAN lift it.

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  22. Some classics just don't work for us. It sounded extremely goo and appealing at first, but your BUT will certainly be mine as well. And the size is discouraging if the story has that many loose ends. I admire the fact that you finished it, though. I wouldn't have. Good for you.

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    1. Al Diaz: Size is often a plus - there have been a lot of books I didn't want to end. And a couple which I have finished, turned over to the front and started again. Not this one.

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  23. Thank you for this very interesting review :) I don't think this would be a book for me.

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  24. Sounds like a pain in the butt book, touted and awarded for what reasons, I wonder, because it's difficult and distant and lengthy?

    I just finished "Unbroken" about Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner, whose plane goes down and missing in an accident in WWII. He survived in a raft for almost two months with the pilot before the Japanese found him and he was interned in harsh Japanese POW camps. This book is honest and told well. I compare it to another recent war book I mostly skimmed, for its repetition and politics---Lone Survivor. Once Lone Survivor, the story of a Navy Seal mission gone bad, gets to the tale, a firefight survival story that happens in five days, its not bad.

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    1. Also still reading East of Eden by Steinbeck, mainly because I don't want it to end. His characters are so deep and his understanding of human nature so great, and although I've read almost all his books, this one holds me like no other. I'll keep it, to read again if there is some disaster that confines me here, it's one of those.

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    2. Strayer: As Marie says, his use of words and images is incredible. He tackles some incredibly complex subjects too. But character in a novel is a must have for me - which might make me trivial - but so beit.
      It is a very long time since I have read Steinbeck - and I loved him. Of Mice and Men and Cannery Row particularly. I might have to revisit him. Thanks for the reminder.

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  25. Characters are very important to me too. Like you, I don't have to like what they're doing, but they have to interest me.

    Thanks for stopping by the Untethered Realms blog today! :)

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    1. Christine Rains: I am glad to hear that others share my insistence on character interest. I am wondering where the people who love Midnight's Children (and Rushdie's other work) are though.

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  26. YES! I am SO with you on this, I need to connect with the characters somehow. Otherwise, there is no point in tagging along the adventure.

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    1. Raquel Somatra: Another character buff - which is reassurring.

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    2. :)

      Also, I just got my BEAUTIFUL card. Thank you SO very much. I love to see your work on cards, as well, that photo is amazing!! So thoughtful, thank you!!!

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    3. Raquel Somatra: I am so glad it arrived, and more glad that you liked it.

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  27. I agree that you don't have to like a character to be involved. I can think of several instantly that I don't necessarily like, but they sure added to the story!

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    1. mail4rosey: I don't have to warm to the character or approve of what they do. They have to be consistent though - or grow in congruent ways.

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  28. While sad, I'm not surprised to read another person having trouble with Rushdie's characters. I've always heard him depicted as an author of ideas and politics over personalities. I still want to try this book, but like you until now, keep postponing really getting into it.

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    1. John Wiswell: An author of ideas and politics is probably a good summation. And they have their place but, for me, it is probably in non-fiction (which I also devour) rather than a novel. I will be very, very interested in your take on this book when you do get to it.

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  29. You are absolutely correct: if the reader doesn't connect with the character, have some sort of empathy...the book gets dusty.

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    1. Susan Kane: Or gets thrown somewhere where dust cannot land.

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  30. I have to admit to skimming most books I read, which is about one a year. :D

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    1. LL Cool Joe: And I read several books a week. I think I would go (more) insane without my books. Different strokes...

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  31. Oh, I really loved this book!

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    1. ladyfi: I am so glad to hear from one of the people who did love it.

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  32. I appreciate and fully trust your honest review. I also respect you for plowing through to the finish. The way you describe it, I couldn't read past the first paragraph of a book like that. If the first sentence hurts my brain, forget it. I move on. It does make you question yourself when a book has been so wildly rewarded for its brilliance, but I much prefer to stick with an easy read in which I'm invested in the protagonist.

    xoRobyn

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    1. Rawknrobyn: Thank you - it did make me question myself. Rather a lot. But there are many, many other books which speak to me better than this one. I suspect that if I read anymore Rushdie it will be non- fiction.

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  33. wow, quite forthright and honest, no I haven't read it and I don't intend to, for some reason he isn't on my 'like' list. I hate it when books give you that feeling, I've had one or two that I downloaded from amazon that were like that, and I struggled through, interesting plots, interesting characters...but needing a few more drafts before publishing...I do resent those books. But it's a learning curve.

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    1. The Wicked Writer: Many, many people have loved this book - but it isn't for me. He does write well, and I suspect many of his peers believe it had all the drafts and polishing that it needed.

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  34. This book is on my TBR list. I've read some of it and it wasn't that bad. Your review pushes it down my TBR list.

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    1. Sonia Lal: I am so sorry - I really don't want to put anyone off. It wasn't for me, but that means very little.

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  35. Dear EC, I picked it up when it first came out. It as in the book club too.
    I picked it up and put it down, picked it up again and put it down again. And left it. As did most of the book club members.

    Life’s too short. And there are too many books to read already.

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    1. Friko: I am glad to hear that others found it a much easier book to put down than to pick up.

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  36. Hi human, Sue,

    I reckon if you kept putting his book off to one side, kept skimming through it, that tells me an awful lot. I'm not a big fan of his writing style. Still, I'm amazed you read so many books. I tried reading Mother Goose stories to Gary and he just couldn't follow along.

    Pawsitive wishes,

    Penny the Jack Russell dog and modest internet superstar! :)

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    1. klahanie: Dear Penny, Gary is so lucky to have you to read to him. I am sure he liked the pictures even if the stories were beyond him.

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  37. an unread book tower, what a hoot, ha

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    1. Linda Starr: A leaning tower at that...

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  38. I have not read this one. I wonder of it is something similar to "Freedom at midnight" (which I liked very much)

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    1. Haddock: I don't know 'Freedom at Midnight', so can't answer you. I will see what I can find out.

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  39. I would rather re-read a favorite book than continue on with one that bores me. I have to have a character to root for in any book I read -- one that I would like to have as a companion on a roadtrip. Fun post.

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    1. Roland D Yeomans: Character is hugely important to me as well, which this book reminded me. Thank you.

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  40. Some years ago I kept starting it and then forgetting what it was all about and having to start again (over several nights). Eventually I gave up. Didn't grip me. Maybe now I'm retired and have more time to read... but you've decided me not to bother!

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    1. Isabelle: Welcome. I didn't enjoy it - but I really don't want to put anyone off.

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  41. "Midnight" was my first Rushdie novel and I loved it. I find his style playful but intellectually engaging. I, too, fretted about the number of pages but his writing is so beautiful and inventive that by the time I finished I didn't realise it'd taken me four or five weeks. With a book like that it's usually more. Ulysses took me three months and The Second Sex three and a half. It's a pity that they made a film of Midnight. I don't think it's movie material.

    Lovely post. Many thanks.

    Greetings from London.

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    1. A Cuban in London: I can't tell you how happy I am to hear from someone who loved it. Thank you.

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  42. Sorry I missed this one...I've been meaning to read Rushdie. I have to connect with at least one of the characters, or rather feel some sympathy for him or her, to really get into a book, I think.

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    1. Riot Kitty: I don't have to necessary connect with them, but I DO have to be interested in what they are doing. So I failed here. I would read a memoir or an essay he wrote, but will probably avoid his fiction.

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  43. Very interesting review.

    I am rather sceptical of many books that others deem "classics".

    I have never read Rushdie (other than a few extracts that did not appeal).

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    1. Andrew Maclaren-Scott: Some of the classics I love, and others - well to say not is probably the politest way I can put it. I can see a lot of positives in this one and it STILL isn't for me. I would however happily read any non-fiction that Rushdie writes. I think. When my unreal tower is reduced.

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  44. I've never read Rushdie. Your review is superb, I wish I could write like that. I tend to enjoy anything with mixed reviews, based on your reasons for not liking the book I too would be disappointed, but I still feel I want to read it for the way you describe his writing of India... and I'm intrigued by the smell reference. Reflex Reactions

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    1. Ida Chiavaro: Thank you. I am not sure it qualifies as a 'review', and is probably more a reflection of my reactions. And I hope you do read it - and let me know what you think.

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