“We live in a time that is stranger than fiction,” said Sir Salman Rushdie at the Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg on Sept. 29, where he introduced the audience to his latest novel, “The Golden House,” which was published by Random House in September.
I couldn’t agree more. With “fake news” and scandals running rampant in the headlines, it only makes sense that we would be drawn to fiction to finally see some truth; and Rushdie delivers this in droves. It takes a special work of literature to marry both fiction and reality so seamlessly, resulting in a masterfully crafted novel of immense entertainment and enjoyment.
Rushdie’s 13th novel provides the reader with a “realistic social panorama” of the Obama presidential years that centers on the Golden Family – a wealthy patriarch and his three sons as they attempt to recreate their lives, and fail, after moving to America. Within the enclosed world of “the Gardens,” a wealthy, private New York community, Rene Unterlinden, a young filmmaker, reveals the mystery of the Goldens, taking us on a gripping thrill ride as we try to discern what is “real” and imaginary.
Rene’s first person point of view gives the reader direct access to his thoughts. In between exposition, dialogue and imaginary musings, Rene unravels the story of the Goldens, who have created characters for their new, carefully constructed lives, leaving the reader to wonder who the Goldens really are (we never learn their real names) and what their story actually is.
Rene, being a filmmaker and rendering this lost story, jumping from past events to his own imaginings, leaves the reader wondering if the Goldens are even real – if everything within the fiction is also fictional. This makes Rene an unreliable narrator, but one with whom we identify and trust, because he is taking us on this thrill ride, which will keep the pages turning.
Written in three parts, the novel cycles through the story of each member of the Golden circle: Nero Golden (the patriarch), and his three sons (Petya, Apu and D – in that order), and finally ending with Rene himself. The writing style is both relatable and engaging stream-of-consciousness. With large run-on sentences and fragments that culminate in single-thought paragraphs, Rushdie uses punctuation and typefaces to give rhythm to his prose. Using headlines as title of subsections, like the changing of movie scenes, helps to additionally organize the book within parts and within chapters.
In the first part, the reader becomes acquainted with each character’s physical appearance, personality and history. Nero, a powerful, rich influencer trying to escape his past and save his family; Petya, a man on the spectrum, computer genius and agoraphobe; Apu, a spiritual, outspoken, artist; D, a sexually confused melancholic; and Rene, a boy who turns into a man through confrontation of mortality, corruption and manipulation.
In the second part, we see both their rise and fall, in which each character’s life becomes one of extreme accomplishment, either of character, companionship or profession, and how he then loses it all. Each man meets his female companion, achieves career success and transforms as a person before hitting a breaking point, after which all the work and progress made crumbles – some of them ending in the character’s demise.
Rushdie accomplishes this with dynamic and surprising scenes that seem to be out-the-blue, but work with the intrigue of the story.
Finally, in the third part, the story concludes with Nero’s demise, Rene’s coming-of-age and the fully realized history of the Goldens.
“The Golden House” is not one of the books you read and then put on the shelf to collect dust. It’s poignant portrayal of the world that we all live in and makes you want to flip from the end to the first page to read it again. How Rushdie plays with fact and fiction and perspective, and the gripping voice and stories of Rene and the Golden family, made it hard for me to put the book down.
I would recommend this book to anyone who likes human intrigue and examination, without the politics; resonating realism of life and the under-workings of society; and experiencing controversial issues with which we all relate: identity, success, morality, passion and purpose.