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Book Report: Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights

It seems Your Humble Blogger has never talked about Salman Rushdie on this Tohu Bohu. The reason for that, presumably, is that I don’t think about him much, and haven’t read most of his books. Which is odd, really, in that I love stories about storytelling, which is much of what he writes about, and that I have quite enjoyed stuff of his that I have read. Haroun & The Sea Of Stories, for instance, and the short story Chekov and Zulu and some other things I can’t recall. I have a vague sense of him as an unpleasant person, from interviews and so forth, but that really oughtn’t prevent me from reading books I like.

Anyway, I picked up Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights from the library, and really enjoyed it. It’s a sloppy mess of a book in a lot of ways, and doesn’t live up to its pretensions (or its beginning) but I prefer books with pretensions that are difficult to live up to, even if the book doesn’t live up to them. OK, that’s not true, I suppose—I like books with certain kinds of pretensions to live up to. Pretensions to fantastic turns of phrase, ambitions to memorable set pieces, pretensions to creating a new and yet recognizable speech pattern for the narrator, ambitions to captivate and delight, ambitions to a sense of wonder. Those are Salman Rushdie pretensions. He also has the other kind—pretensions to literary merit, vaddevah dat means; pretentions to Importance; pretentions to insight into the Human Condition; pretensions to a place in the canon.

The book surely had some annoying bits. Surely, it was irritating in places, lots of places. There was no way the end it would be at all satisfying, and it wasn’t. Furthermore, as a Believer myself, I felt the book suffered from not really understanding how religious Belief can work for people, but probably that’s more my problem than the book’s. Mostly, it’s a delightful, delightful book, the kind that makes you want to read bits of it aloud to your spouse, or steal sentences for your own use. It’s a fun book, a big book, and if it doesn’t have the thump that it thinks it does, more thump would not have improved it at all.

I don’t know if Salman Rushdie has ever been nominated for a Spec-Fic award. I don’t know if this is the book that would do it—it is a mess, after all, and there are presumably plenty of good books that aren’t messes—but the thing a nomination might conceivably do is to put the book in the context it deserves, and bring a delightful mess of an urban fantasy novel to the attention of readers who like that sort of thing. I used to grouse a lot more about the insularity of spec-fic award nominations, that books such as this one (or Walter Mosley’s or other ‘literary’ speculative fiction) weren’t being considered for nomination, or even considered part of the field. That’s scarcely the most pressing problem at the moment. Still and all, if (as with the Oscars) the point is just to pick a few works to focus attention on and honor, with the hope that people who would like them will read them, this book is one that, for all its mainstream attention, genre readers would like and probably won’t read.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,