Likely Stories: The Golden House by Salman Rushdie

May 10, 2018

A mysterious man with three sons moves from Bombay to New York 


I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

Salman Rushdie has become another of my favorite authors.  His detailed and mysterious characters all have stories too intense, too interesting, and all with splashes of humor.  While he has something of a reputation as a writer of dense and obscure fiction, his last ten or so novels were all written with details that leave absolutely nothing left unsaid or undescribed.  His latest novel, The Golden House, maintains his marvelous and intriguing prose style.

As the dust jacket notes, “On the day of Barack Obama’s inauguration, an enigmatic billionaire from an [unidentified] foreign shore and takes up residence in the architectural jewel of ‘the Gardens,’ a cloistered community in New York’s Greenwich Village.”  Of course, the neighbors are fascinated.  His chosen, new world name is Nero Golden, and his three sons have adopted names of other Roman figures, Apu—from Lucius Apuleius, Dionysus prefers, “D,” and Petronius, takes the nickname, Petya.  Each of these three men take turns unraveling the mystery of this family.

Rushdie also weaves lots of references to a whole slew of literary and real characters ranging from Anton Chekhov to George Clooney.  Here is a sample of what is in store for the intrepid reader.  “That night he talked and drank without stopping, and all of us who were there would carry fragments of that talk in our memories for the rest of our lives.  What crazy, extraordinary talk it was!  No limit to the subjects he reached for and used as punching bags: the British royal family, in particular the lives of Princess Margaret, who used a Caribbean island as her private boudoir, and Prince Charles, who wanted to be his lover’s toy; the philosophy of Spinoza (he liked it); the lyrics of Bob Dylan (he recited the whole of ‘Sad-eyed Lady of the Lowlands,’ as reverently as if it were a companion piece to ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’; the Spassky-Fischer chess match (Fischer had died the year before); Islamic radicalism (he was against it) and wishy-washy liberalism (which appeased Islam, he said, so he was against it too); […] the novels of G.K. Chesterton (he was a fan of The Man Who was Thursday); the unpleasantness of male chest hair; the ‘unjust treatment ‘ of Pluto, recently demoted to the status of ‘dwarf planet’ after a larger body, Eris, was discovered in the Kuiper Belt” (48-49).  This is about two-thirds of the list of his topics.

Nero had some unspecified plans for the future.  Rushdie writes, “Nero had hired the most powerful members of the city’s tribe of publicists, whose most important task was not to get, but to suppress, publicity; and so what happened in the Golden House very largely stayed in the Golden House” (52). One son is something of a loose cannon.  Rushdie writes, “D Golden, when in his brothers’ company, alternated between ingratiation and rage.  It was plain that he needed to love and be loved; there was a tide of emotion in him that needed to wash over people and he hoped for a returning tide to wash over him. […]  Sometimes he seemed wise beyond his years.  At other times he behaved like a four-year-old child” (67).

Salman Rushdie is an amazingly talented writer who can sweep a reader along on fantastic waves of literature, philosophy, history, and politics, while never forgetting to smile.  His latest novel, The Golden House has from me, a solid 5 stars.

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!