Salman Rushdie’s latest novel begins with the arrival of Nero Golden and his three sons in New York City, on the day of Barack Obama’s inauguration. These four men have appeared in the city under mysterious circumstances, from an unnamed country, with assumed names. They move into a close knit, wealthy neighbourhood with a shared garden and our narrator, Rene, a young and aspiring filmmaker takes an interest in this unusual family.
Over the next eight years, Rene becomes intimately involved with the Golden family and steadily reveals their secrets, their foibles, and their tragedies. The book lends itself easily to comparisons with The Great Gatsby – the narrator located slightly outside of the main action. A young man both drawn in and repulsed by a lifestyle of fabulous wealth. A very rich and powerful man with a mysterious background. Rene becomes far more entangled with the Goldens than Nick ever became with Gatsby but the comparison is apt and no doubt intentional on Rushdie’s part.
I have to admit, I’ve never been able to get into a Rushdie novel before. I’ve tried twice with Midnight’s Children and quickly lost interest. So I went into this one with low expectation but was quickly engaged. Rene is a strong narrator and the rate of revelation works well. While there are definite secrets withheld, it never feels like information is being kept from the reader simply for the sake of creating false tension. I did find Rene rather unlikeable and for the first maybe third of the book wished that it wouldn’t focus on him and his background so much. However, as the story progresses, we see how entwined he becomes with the Goldens and it makes more sense as one over-arching story.
The Goldens are an interesting assortment of characters. Nero, powerful and terrifying with some surprising (and unsurprising) weaknesses. A character who walks the line of a stereotype dangerously closely but never quite crosses over. Petya, the oldest son, brilliant and deeply troubled. Apu, the middle son, artistic and angry. D, the youngest son of a different mother, struggling to find his place in the family and in his own life. They’re each compelling and their stories are fascinating. As time and the novel progresses, both the family’s tale and the world itself become more of a tragedy.
As the Goldens fall apart, so too does their adopted country. A political leader, known only as The Joker, comes to power and the world around Rene quickly changes. The comparison to Donald Trump and the current state of American politics is obvious. While perhaps heavy-handed (The Joker is literally a cartoon villain after all) it makes for remarkably timely commentary. I was reading The Golden House as events unfolded in Charlottesville and it made it all feel extra eery. It will be interesting to see how the novel reads in five or ten years, in the aftermath of Trump’s America.
For a first-time introduction to Salman Rushdie’s work, the book is terrific. I highly recommend it and I would recommend it even more now in our current political climate.
8 thoughts on “Book Review: The Golden House by Salman Rushdie”
You’ve made me want to read this!
I hope you like it, if you do! Have you read Rushdie before?
No, I need to though.
I like how you worded that idea of “false tension”. I hate it when things are held from the reader, it feels like a cheap trick and it’s so obvious. I also feel as though it’s a lazier form of writing.
I completely agree! It’s something first person narrator too often fall into, where information is obviously being withheld and it can be so frustrating! Fortunately, Rushdie seems to be able to keep the reader from feeling strung along.
I skimmed your review since I’m starting this book tonight! But I’m delighted to see you recommend it so highly. I had tried Rushdie and failed before, too, but adored his last novel Two Year, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, so my expectations for this one are a little mixed – finders crossed, and I’ll read your review properly after I’ve read the book… 🙂
I hope you like it too! I’m still reluctant to delve into more Rushdie since I’ve struggled with him before but maybe I should be working my way backwards for his works!
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