"Booker Books"

by Mary Anne Bonney

[from Punch, 19 October 1983] . . . It is not Salman Rushdie's style to be satisfied with mere individuals. Shame numbers the history of Pakistan among its subjects. No sooner does Omar Khayyam Shakil reach maturity and contrive to escape the clutches of Munnee, Chhunni, and Bunny, his fearful trio of mothers, than he is caught up with a multitude of colourful characters and swept helplessly into a series of events, which combine fact with fantasy, and myth with fairy tale. Rushdie's style matches his creation: breathless and disjointed, and leaves the reader with a series of powerful images -- Pinkie Aurangzeb's 218 turkey's slaughtered by the childish hands of Sufiya Zinobia: each one with its head torn off and its guts pulled out through its gullet. The connecting thread is not always easy to discern and even the author seems to have trouble, lapsing disconcertingly at intervals into anecdote and self-justification...

...With Waterland Graham Swift brings us firmly back to earth, to the flat watery country of the Fens. The monotony of the landscape throws into relief the human stories played out in it and they are recounted with passion by the history teacher/narrator who is about to see his all-important subject subsumed into the trendily acceptable ragbag of "general studies." Egged on by his obnoxious pupil Price's demands for the here and now, he strives to get his message across: history is now, history is the real story of real people. The teacher's own story, the story of the deeds and misdeeds of his Fenland ancestors, of the lost innocence of Mary Metcalf and the conception of Dick the potato head, of the consumption by fire of the New Atkinson Brewery and the mysterious voyage of the European eel from its breeding ground in the Sargasso Sea too the shifting silt channels of the River Ouse, is told with an insistent urgency which rarely flags.

[added by Barry J, Fishman '89]

United Kingdom