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November 07, 2005

Grimus is bound to delight - Kwantlen Chronicle

I’ve read a lot of books in my 28 years, but there’s one that stands out from the rest.

I first came across Salmon Rushdie’s Grimus while travelling through Turkey. There was a book exchange at a hostel with all sorts of favourites you might expect from backpackers: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams; On the Road, by Jack Kerouac; The Sirens of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut; and a pile more.

Somehow it was Grimus – which I would soon come to think of as the work of a genius – that found its way into my pack.

Luckily it isn’t too long a book, otherwise I might not have seen as much of Turkey as I did.

Grimus is a novel that feeds intellectual appetites, entertains with a fantastic story, delights in using language as a malleable art and engages the reader with philosophical thought. Simply put, Rushdie is a master of the written word.

The style of Rushdie’s prose seems almost faulty at first, until it become obvious he’s in total control of his craft. One of the most noticeable quirks in this regard is that rather than use quotation marks, Rushdie introduces speech with a dash. Though at first this may be a little confusing, it sets a stage on which Rushdie has more licence to play with the function, flow and form of his novel. It’s bold and risky, which explains why so many find it a thrill to read his work.

The story centres on an American Indian named Flapping Eagle, an outcast from his isolated, traditional-living people. One day his sister Bird-Dog gives him two phials – one is an elixir of immortality and the other of certain death – which a mysterious, travelling peddler had offered to her. Flapping Eagle spends the next 700 years roaming the world searching for the meaning of life.

Quoted from Chapter 3 of Grimus:

–They’ll keep me young, she said, clutching them ever more tightly. Or at least this one will. She held up the yellow phial.

–For how long? I asked timorously. The shadow was back.

–Forever, she screamed triumphantly, and then burst into tears.

After drinking his way to everlasting life and later getting into a boating accident that leaves him drifting alone on a mystical stretch of sea, Flapping Eagle wakes up on the beach of the mountainous Calf Island, where everyone is just like him – immortal. It’s here where his adventure really begins, as he starts a quest to face his biggest fear.

Grimus was Rushdie’s first published novel, after he had abandoned two earlier efforts and had a third rejected by a publisher.

Although he is now internationally known as one of the world’s most gifted novelists, Rushdie’s genius wasn’t generally recognized until after publishing his second novel, Midnight’s Children, a historical fantasy about the independence of India that won the Booker McConnell Prize and later the Booker of Bookers.

In 1989, following the publication of his fourth and most controversial novel, The Satanic Verses, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran put out a $1.5-million bounty on Rushdie’s head for defaming Islam, forcing Rushdie into hiding until 1996.

If there is a weakness to Grimus, it’s that many readers will not have it in themselves to adapt to his style. In this case, Grimus probably will not seem the work of a genius, but more likely that of a nonsensical scatterbrain.

This book will please those who love fantastic stories and to think in abstract ways.