Much Ado About Nothing


I recently finished Special Topics in Calamity Physics and The Enchantress of Florence. Both had similar qualities and similar failings — the writing skills of the authors are undeniable, yet neither lead you anywhere interesting. At the end of the day, you read a lot of explosive, highly stylized language, but it amounts to little more than that.

This has always been my problem with Salman Rushdie. I read the Moor’s Last Sigh, and although I was immensely impressed at every corner by Rushdie’s abilities, as the story moved on I could care less about the main character. Then I gave the Satanic Verses a try, and after 100 pages, I simply gave up. It was thoroughly uninteresting.

The Enchantress of Florence was at least more interesting. It was reminiscent of other books I have read in the past year or so — of Ibn Battutah, Amin Maalouf, and even of Umberto Eco (you felt like he hired Eco’s university staff to impress you). But once again, after all of Rushdie’s wordy acrobatics and plot twists, I would have preferred to re-read the Battutah or Maalouf.

At least with Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics, you have interesting characters (although some of them seemed borrowed from other novels — the father could come straight out of Nabokov), and a story you can’t put down, even if it doesn’t take you anywhere in the end. But then again who cares? I actually never remember the end to any book I read or movie I see. The ride is important, and for some reason, I have never been able to stay awake Mr. Rushdie’s road. Meanwhile with Calamity Physics, the ride was great, but the destination was much ado about nothing.



Filed under Digressions, Literature

4 responses to “Much Ado About Nothing

  1. Melissa

    Hey, I loved Calamity Physics! I thought that Pessl could have cut the fake academic references by two thirds, but otherwise I was blown away by her talent. And I was pleased with the ending, too. The character learned something: humility, mostly, and also the emptiness of prestige. Both very meaningful, in my opinion. Though of course she ends up at Harvard. But Pessl is young.

    Btw I can never get through Rushdie, either. Yawn.

  2. eric

    I agree. I was impressed beyond by Pessl. I almost felt like I was so impressed while reading the book that it was distracting.

  3. C’mon, people! Give Salman a chance. He actually used to be my favorite author until others scored better. The Satanic Verses is a great book disguising the charm and danger of the ideology of oneness. True it’s full of digressions but who hasn’t sin 🙂 it still has merit as literature (fills the canvas with intricate details). Shame is another great novel about the foundation of the Pakistani (I believe, despite not being mentioned) state, viewed through magical realism lenses (very accurate btw). Haroun and the Sea of Stories is a nicest & utterly captivating story. The Moor’s Last Sigh is the salt and pepper of Orient becoming Occident.
    On the other hand, The Midnight Children is a novel I don’t remember anything of and The Grimus is simply not yet literature. But the point is there are many good things in Rushdie and I’ll give it a go with the Enchantress of Florence.

  4. eric

    Actually, I am now reading “The Captive Mind” so I am completely paranoid that I am being subjected to Stalinist propaganda in the form of subtle (and not so subtle) corporate brainwashing on a daily basis.

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