Salman Rushdie on the Novel and Today’s World

At the First Parish Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on November 7, Salman Rushdie read from his latest novel, Shalimar the Crown, and spoke about storytelling in today’s world.

According to the Harvard Gazette, Rushdie said that the novelistic conventions we associate with Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Gustave Flaubert don’t suit our own times very well.

“The novel does not want to live in a world like this. The novel wants to be about Madame Bovary living in a small town and having an affair because she’s bored. It’s much harder to write a novel about our world, but it’s important to try.”

(To which I say, “Amen.”)

At the same time, Rushdie also cautioned against allowing larger world forces/events to overtake the novel.

“One has to remember, at the heart of the novel is the human figure. In this book, Shalimar gradually becomes a man of violence, but he’s from a community where everyone undergoes the same privations. Why does he become a man of violence when others don’t? This is where individual character becomes very important.”

Rushdie further noted: “The reason Tolstoy wrote ‘War and Peace’ was not to describe the battle of Borodino. It was to write about the lives of his characters. The novelist has to make sure that human beings stay at the center.”

Pretty intriguing stuff, especially for someone (like me) often drawn to what some have disparaged in writing workshops as “current events” in my fiction. To read the full Gazette article, click here.