JRB: Salman Rushdie’s finest writing in years
Despite a tone of hopelessness, The Golden House carries majesty, from its prose to its world-weary gaze, writes critic CA Davids.
Salman Rushdie once said in an interview that during the writing of a particular novel he found himself without a clear idea of how the book might proceed. He knew only the beginning and the end that would form the book’s arc. Importantly though, there was a defining idea through which the entire novel would pass, that is to say a key that would unlock the entire story and direct the author’s writing. If there is a key to The Golden House — Rushdie’s twelfth work of adult fiction — a single idea that pulls the narrative and perhaps the reader across the book, it might be the absurd times in which we currently find ourselves.
At the centre of The Golden House is Nero Golden, a seventy-year-old patriarch who mysteriously decamps with his three sons from a city and country that must not be named to a mansion in an enchanted New York City communal garden. The names of this family of men reveal something of their ambitions: Nero (last emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty), Petronius (Roman author in the court of Nero), Lucius Apuleius (Roman author of The Golden Ass) and Dionysus (Greek god of fertility and wine). Their chosen — not given — names, of course. But then the novel begins at the start of Barack Obama’s presidency, when the USA was — at the least — still considered a country largely welcoming of foreigners; in a time when hope and progress seemed like plausible concepts. …