The one thing this book has succeeded at is making me appreciate my ArtHum education. There are so many references to canonical Western art pieces, and it’s fun to recognize these references and recognize the way the ideas and themes of the novel interact with the themes of the paintings. Or perhaps that’s my semi-liberal arts education speaking. But I have no doubt that without that liberal arts learnedness, I would not have enjoyed the novel.
I feel really conflicted about this work because the concepts and ideas and themes are really interesting, but the actual execution makes reading at times tedious and boring. You’d think that with so many cultural references, ranging from modern-day superhero to Ivy League education artwork, the reading would be more interesting. But it’s not. The ideas are: Rushdie always ties Indian culture into his writing, and we get a really great mash-up of cultures in East meets West and how that all ties into historical and global racism, discrimination, and bigotry. But the characters are hard to connect with and the writing, though at times poetic and lyrical, could also be very tedious to get through. Sometimes I felt like Rushdie’s goal was to make every paragraph the same long length, and sometimes I straight up fell asleep while reading.
But the ideas, the ideas are so great! We get this really interesting fairytale backstory of jinnia/fairy princess and mortal human man. The fantastical jinn have an Arabic/Islamic origin, but their fairytale world is pretty similar to the fairies/faeries/fae that contemporary urban fantasy is so fond of, and Rushdie ties their interactions with our world into Western canon–Greek gods, European monsters, and the like.
Goya’s “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters” pretty much sets the framework for the whole novel, where the sleep of reason–unreason–appears to be religion, which creates the grounds for discrimination and bigotry, and the doing of misdeeds all in the name of religion. The novel seems to criticize religion, calling reason an absence of religion and the only way to finding peace and equality, but in the end, it becomes clear that perhaps the prevalence of reason and absence of unreason isn’t all great either. Because even though the “sleep of reason” might bring forth monsters, it is also in sleep that we dream and have a source of creativity.
Conceptually great but emotionally lacking, Rushdie’s novel was mostly an exercise in seeing how much I really learned from my classes in school. I’m glad I can say I learned something, and was able to recognize several references to Goya’s “Saturn Devouring His Son,” which allowed me to actually enjoy parts of the novel so I didn’t have to unhappily trudge through the flood of words.