The Sea of Stories

I think I have probably written on more than one occasion about how much I enjoy the kind of magic realist or fantastical stories authored by people like Salman Rushdie and Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Franz Kafka and G. K. Chesterton and Jorge Louis Borges. Unfortunately, because my English Literature degrees introduced me to more literary theory than literature, and because my life now offers me little enough time for books, there is much that I have not yet had the opportunity to read, even of these favourite authors. One such book, Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories, has been sitting on my shelf for several years now, and probably would have remained there for some time yet if I had not been reminded of it by a recent correspondence with TC, who mentioned that she had read it to her son.

Yesterday evening, however, after an overfull day, my sister-in-law took my eldest son for a few hours, and my youngest son went to sleep for the night. My wife and I made some tea, sat on the front porch in the finally cooling air, and read. She finished Miriam Toews’ A Complicated Kindness, which fell somewhat short of her expectations. I picked up Rushdie’s story about Haroun and his Sea of Stories, which certainly did not fall short of mine.

The book is unlike much of Rushdie’s other fiction. It is more explicitly fantastical, closer in this respect to Grimus, his first novel, but it is much lighter in tone than Grimus. It has the feeling of an oriental fairy tale, something like Arabian Nights, but with a decidedly modern influence. It reminded me of some of Neil Gaiman’s writing, though pulling from very different mythological sources.

At first, perhaps because its tone is so different from Rushdie’s other work, I found the book merely flippant. The easy puns particularly annoyed me, and I prepared myself to be disappointed with the whole. As the story progressed, however, it began to grow into its tone, or perhaps I began to grow into it, and even the puns began to seem appropriate to the lightly ironic sensibility of the narrative. By the time I finished, I found that I was enjoying myself very much, even wishing that the book was a little longer. I would not compare it to some of Rushdie’s more serious work, but it has a novelty of imagination that makes it remarkable nonetheless, and it was certainly a very pleasant way to spend a summer evening on the porch.

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