Chair of the 2019 Booker Prize judges, Peter Florence, said:
“If you only read one book this year, make a leap. Read all 13 of these. There are Nobel candidates and debutants on this list. There are no favourites; they are all credible winners. They imagine our world, familiar from news cycle disaster and grievance, with wild humour, deep insight and a keen humanity. These writers offer joy and hope. They celebrate the rich complexity of English as a global language. They are exacting, enlightening and entertaining. Really – read all of them.”
We are a long way from the fertile lyricism of Midnight’s Children, and there is nothing here approaching the death of Changez Chamchawala in The Satanic Verses. But we are still watching a master at work. I thought of Scrapheap Challenge, the television show where contestants have to build a working machine from junk. Rushdie has taken bits of our shared lives, scraps of our language, and constructed a vehicle as wondrous as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. This novel can fly, it can float, it’s anecdotal, effervescent, charming, and a jolly good story to boot.
Quichotte is the third in a loose trilogy — so far — of novels in which Rushdie has explored the situation of immigrants in modern America. Yet whereas his previous novel, The Golden House, was a satire that was about as subtle as a whoopee cushion, Quichotte marks a welcome return to form. More than just another postmodern box of tricks, this is a novel that feeds the heart while it fills the mind. It has already been longlisted for this year’s Booker prize; anyone who enjoys a literary flutter could do worse than place a bet on it to win.
The best, most piercing moments in the novel occur when dreams recede, and analysis is risked. Sancho, demanding his independence, tells his father that that means a bank account, for “A debit card is important. An overdraft is important. If you’re not buying stuff, if you’re not making repayments, the system doesn’t recognise that you exist.” Magical realism aside, there are other ways in the US to become an invisible ghost – to have people look right through you.
‘You need your wits about you if you want to ride the road,’ says Rushdie’s blue fairy. ‘It’ll twist and turn on you. It’ll duck and swerve and land you where you don’t expect and you got no business being.’ Reading this novel is a similarly disorientating experience; not every reader will complete the journey. Those who do will be driven to their wits’ end and back again. But those who are prepared to sit back and enjoy the ride will encounter scenery like none they have ever seen.