Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children has won the Man Booker Prize not once but three times. It is the only book which can make such a claim. The first win was in 1981 following its publication. The second and third were in 1993 for the 2008 for the 25th and 40th anniversary of the Man Booker Prize, where judges choose a winner from among all the previous winners to name the “Booker of Bookers”.
Set in India, it’s is a trans generational epic starting around 1915 and ending in 1977, it follows the story of Saleem Sinai and his family in the years leading up to and following Indian independence. Born precisely at midnight, August 15, 1947 the moment of Indian Independance, Saleem is one of 1,001 children born between midnight and 1am endowed with magical powers becoming the Midnight Children. From that moment on Saleem’s life, that of his family and the other Midnight Children becomes unavoidably tied up with the fate of India and will mirror the struggles of the burgeoning nation.
I’m not entirely sure what I made of this book. It took me over a month to read, which is extremely slow by my standards. Part of that I can put down to being very busy so had little time for reading, and the fact I effectively stopped to read another book midway through. However I feel that had I been really captivated by this book I would have made time to read it, even if only a few pages a day. And therein lies the problem. I never felt the book’s spell fully take hold of me, I never felt that compelling need to finish what I was doing so I could get back to rading it.
The first half I found slow. The author spends half the book building the backstory before he even begins to build the action. From the midway point he finally begins to build towards the climax, however in the end it felt anticlimactic and rushed. I recognise this was a literary technique on the part of the author emphasising that the main character was running out of time, but for me it didn’t work. I would have preferred less backstory and more time devoted to the main action of the book.
The saving grace of this book was the language. It is beautiful and poetic, bringing to live a country, a city and a culture with all its sounds and smells. While reading the language would cast something of a spell on me, driving me on, though once I ceased reading the spell would be broken and I didn’t feel that urge to continue till I made myself pick it up again. For language alone I give it three stars.
I suspect part of my problem may be the way I read it. I think this is one of those books you can’t dip in and out of. It needs a few days of uninterrupted dedicated reading to draw you in and captivate you. Perhaps had I been able to give this book the attention it requires my rating would have been higher.