Idea Of The Day

The Problem of Being Salman Rushdie

One of the hazards of becoming a Very Famous Novelist is that it allows people who have perhaps never read your books to have views (usually negative) about your writing. Moreover, as a VFN you’re likely to find that these people are more interested in your life than in your work. The reason people feel obliged to have strong opinions about a book or an author they don’t know much about is born, presumably, from a need to give the impression of being well-read or to appear in the loop or because they consider life worthless without opinion, even an uninformed one. In short, pretentiousness. Just now, it seems that a great many people have views about Salman Rushdie and his latest novel, The Fury (which I have yet to buy, although I’ve read four of Rushdie’s previous novels, his short book about Nicaragua, and various articles he’s written for the papers and the reviews). Rushdie is currently having an amazingly hard time with the critics, but he’s also run into what could be described as the problem of being Salman Rushdie, Very Famous Novelist. He’s routinely attacked not so much for his writing but for the way he conducts his life. Yet why do so many people care if the novelist lives in London or New York or Los Angeles or in all three cities? So what if he steps out with a young and attractive woman? For all I know, he may be, like most writers, impossibly vain (though few people in the entire history of the novel have been as vain as V.S. Naipaul), but is this a surprise when you consider that the novel-writing requires supreme self-consciousness? And while Rushdie endures his storm, why is Jack Welch treated so lightly? The former CEO may have made GE into America’s most successful company, but how many people has he fired and how many lives has he ruined as a result? I would guess that Rushdie has never sacked a single person—although plenty of people who have never read his novels seem to have the mad hope that the novelist would sack himself. Oh, puh-leeze.