The Bizarre and the Miraculous in Rushdie's Fiction

Noah M. Landow

In Postmodernist Fiction, Brian McHale describes the world of Midnight's Children, an earlier novel by Rushdie, in terms that hold true for Shame: "The India of Midnight's Children is a world thoroughly pervaded by miracles -- so thoroughly, indeed, that the miraculous comes to appear routine" (77). In this "world . . . pervaded by miracles" the characters, especially Rushdie himself, have become accustomed to the the fantastic. To them, fantasy has become banal; it has traded places with the ordinary and become ordinary itself. As this next passage makes clear, Rushdie is aware of this fact and extends its surrealism to encompass the reader by explaining it in terms of the real world:

Appearances notwithstanding, however, this Sufiya Zinobia turned out to be, in reality, one of those supernatural beings, those exterminating or avenging angels, or werewolves, or vampires, about whom we are happy to read in stories, sighing thankfully or even a little smugly while they scare the pants off us that it's just as well they are no more than abstractions or figments; because we know (but do not say) that the mere likelihood of such beings' existence would utterly subvert the laws by which we live, the processes by which we understand the world. (Shame, pp. 216-217)

In bringing our thankfulness, our smugness, and even our pants into a matter-of-fact discussion of the reality of avenging angels, werewolves, and vampires, Rushdie draws us into his fantasy world, and in doing so he blurs the boundaries which separate reality from fantasy.

But he smudges these boundaries not only by bringing reality into fantasy; he also brings fantasy into our reality:

If this were a realistic novel about Pakistan, I would not be writing about Bilqu�s and the wind; I would be talking about my youngest sister. Who is twenty-two, and studying engineering in Karachi; who can't sit on her hair anymore, and who (unlike me) is a Pakistani citizen. On my good days I think of her as Pakistani, and then I feel very fond of the place, and find it easy to forgive its (her) love of Coca-Cola and imported motor cars. . . . By now, if I had been writing a book of this nature, it would have done me no good to protest that I was writing universally, not only about Pakistan. The book would have been banned, dumped in the rubbish bin, burned. All that effort for nothing! Realism can break a writer's heart. (Shame, 70, 72)

Rushdie gives here, incidentally, a good reason for not writing Shame as a realistic fiction. However, the surreal world of the novel blurs ironically into ours in consideration of the fact that Shame was indeed "banned, dumped in the rubbish bin, burned." So he has demonstrated, yet again, his proficiency at distorting reality until it becomes fantasy, and in this case also distorted fantasy until it becomes reality.

Postcolonial Web Pakinstan OV Rushdie OV Midnight's Children Shame OV