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Grimus by Salman Rushdie
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Grimus (1975)

by Salman Rushdie

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
Grimus is either a fantasy or science fiction novel--depending on how you define the terms--that explores various notions of ideology, personality, and cultural equivalence through the mechanisms of myth, literature and language. If that sounds rather vague, it is probably by the author's design that it is so. One of his characters says: "I do not care for stories that are so, so tight. Stories should be like life, slightly frayed at the edges, full of loose ends and lives juxtaposed by accident rather than some grand design. Most of life has no meaning--so it must surely be a distortion of life to tell tales in which every single element is meaningful."

The protagonist of the novel is an American Indian named Flapping Eagle. Whether he is of our own time, or even our own reality, is unclear and immaterial. Following the lead of his older sister (and lover!) Bird-Dog, Flapping Eagle takes a potion which promises him immortality. After 700 years of basically kicking around in a sailboat and getting bored, Flapping Eagle decides he wants to experience old age. He learns from another immortal of a mysterious place called Calf Island, where all immortals eventually go when they've had their fill of life.

Flapping Eagle comes shipwrecked to the shore of Calf Island, which consists of a single mountain called Calf Mountain. He is welcomed by a man named Virgil Jones, who becomes his guide and mentor. Halfway up Calf Mountain is a town called K, where most of the immortals live. K is like nothing so much as the setting for a Western movie, complete with its saloon and whorehouse. At the top of the mountain, some believe, lives a man named Grimus who subtly controls Calf Island with the help of a device named the Stone Rose. But Grimus is a megalomaniac, and the Stone Rose is broken, threatening to plunge Calf Island and its inhabitants into interdimensional chaos.

Some of the many literary allusions in the novel are obvious in the preceding summary. Virgil is Flapping Eagle's guide up Calf Mountain just as Virgil was Dante's guide down into Hell. K can only be an allusion to Kafka, and the Stone Rose evokes the Rosetta Stone. There are many other references to various mythologies and literatures. Grimus (as we are told in the novel) is an anagram of Simurg, the mythical flying creature found in Persian and other Asian myths, the equivalent of the Roc or Phoenix. Much of the novel is said also to be based on Sufi concepts and literature, with which I am unacquainted. Likewise I'm sure there are references to as many different Asian cultural ideas as there are Western.

One of the common themes in the novel is dualities--the juxtaposition of the Asian Simurg and the American Eagle, for example. (Probably also the juxtaposition of the Asian Indian author and the American Indian character.) People are repeatedly paired with their equivalents and opposites just as cultural ideas and mythological symbols from East and West are seen as mirror images. The text is also full of anagrams (Grimus=Simug, Thera=Earth, etc.) to the point where I got distracted trying to find anagrams where there probably weren't any, and the chief scientific notion behind the novel is the idea of parallel universes.

Ideologically if there is one clear point in Grimus, it is of people's lives "ruined for the sake of an idea...," of people "...clutching obsessively at the shreds their individuality, knowing within themselves that they were powerless to alter the circumstances in which they lived" in the face of "unlimited power, unlimited learning, and a rarefied, abstract attitude to life which exalted these two into the greatest goals of humanity." This would appear to be a swipe both at utopianism and theocracy.

But much of Grimus appears to be an assortment of ideas, allusions, and gimmicks with no clear and coherent theme behind them. It's an often entertaining novel, but one which would almost certainly have sunk into oblivion had its author not subsequently written Midnight's Children and The Satanic Verses. ( )
5 vote StevenTX | Feb 28, 2014 |
This is a horrible book. Not even the author rates it! It is interesting only because Rushdie plays around with the magical realism that will play a major part in his writing and touches on themes he will later explore in much greater depth.

I don't recommend anyone who is thinking of reading Rushdie to think that as this is one of his shorter ones it would be a good one to start with, it really isn't a good read. Rather go for [b:Shame|4831|Shame|Salman Rushdie|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348893969s/4831.jpg|855015] with the wonderfully drawn character of the Virgin Ironpants (Benazir Bhutto). Now that book would make anyone want to explore more Rushdie.

Recommended to writers: knowing that Rushdie won the Booker of Bookers for his magnificent book [b:Midnight's Children|14836|Midnight's Children|Salman Rushdie|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1166661748s/14836.jpg|1024288] should give you hope that even if your first book flops (because it is crap) there is still hope, you can still aim for the top and know that it's possible to reach there.

Read back '96ish, reviewed Nov 2012, edited February 2013. Why does this awful book stick in my head? ( )
  Petra.Xs | Apr 2, 2013 |
It should be pointed out that Flapping Eagle was averagely kind and good; but he would soon be responsible for a large number of deaths. He was also as sane as the next man, but then the next man was Mr Virgil Jones.

I could have sworn that I read this book back in the year dot when I first acquired it, but apparently not. I must have been thinking of another book altogether, as the plot was all completely new to me and not about a shepherd boy on a quest at all.

This is the story of Flapping Eagle's quest for mortality. Hundreds of years after drinking a liquid that made him immortal, he is bored with life and wants to start ageing again, so he starts looking for the mysterious peddler who gave him the bottle before leaving with his sister. An old acquaintance directs him to an island where immortals go to live when they are tired of living in the ever-changing world of mortal men, but he finds a place of stagnation and fear whose inhabitants live in the past as much as possible.

An interesting story, but for some reason it didn't really appeal, so I'm only giving it three stars. ( )
  isabelx | Mar 16, 2011 |
I'm always fascinated with first novels: how the author tries so hard to make an impression; the youthful indiscretions; the eccentricities; the fabulous plots. Rushdie's first has all of these and more. It has a story that cannot be summarised easily without recourse to trite and inaccurate cliches, and it is one of the most inventive pieces I've ever seen. I can't wait to read more. ( )
  soylentgreen23 | May 27, 2010 |
This being the sixth of Rushdie's novels that I have read, I had already made my mind up that I was going to like it. It is the first one that he wrote, and differs from the other ones I have read in not at all involving India. It has a more science fiction slant than his others, while being roughly identifiable in its magical realism tones consistent in his other works. This is one of the things that I like his books for, though it does not seem to be quite as pronounced here. I wanted to like this book, though I had heard it was his worse one. The story is quite unusual, and may not appeal as readily to those who have enjoyed any of his other works as most of the other ones they have not read would, due to its Sci-Fi, non contemporary setting. I wasn't disappointed to have read it, but I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as any of his other books. Many of the things that make his other books so good are present here, but in a lesser quantity. I would not reccommend it readily to a first time Rushdie reader, as it may put them off, unless they were into Science Fiction, (which I am certainly not). The plot is sound, and I was pleased with the ending, but the depth and splendour of imagination found in the Satanic Verses, my favourite so far, was not here. ( )
  P_S_Patrick | Jul 10, 2008 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Salman Rushdieprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Goodfellow, PeterCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Go, go, go, said the bird; human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
(T. S. ELIOT)

Come, you lost atoms, to your Centre draw,
And be the Eternal Mirror that you saw:
Rays that have wandered into darkness wide
Return, and back into your sun subside.
(FARID-UD-DIN 'ATTAR,
iThe Conference of the Birds, trans. Fitzgerald)

Crow straggled, limply bedraggled his remnant.
He was his own leftover, the spat-out scrag.
He was what his brain could make nothing of.
(TED HUGHES,
Crow's Playmate)

The sands of Time are steeped in new<>Beginnings.
(IGNATIUS Q. GRIBB,
The All-Purpose Quotable Philosopht)
Dedication
For Clarissa
First words
Mr Virgil Jones, a man devoid of friends and with a tongue rather too large for his mouth, was fond of descending this cliff-path on Tiusday mornings.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812969995, Paperback)

“A mixture of science fiction and folktale, past and future, primitive and present-day . . . Thunderous and touching.”
Financial Times

After drinking an elixir that bestows immortality upon him, a young Indian named Flapping Eagle spends the next seven hundred years sailing the seas with the blessing–and ultimately the burden–of living forever. Eventually, weary of the sameness of life, he journeys to the mountainous Calf Island to regain his mortality. There he meets other immortals obsessed with their own stasis and sets out to scale the island’s peak, from which the mysterious and corrosive Grimus Effect emits. Through a series of thrilling quests and encounters, Flapping Eagle comes face-to-face with the island’s creator and unwinds the mysteries of his own humanity. Salman Rushdie’s celebrated debut novel remains as powerful and as haunting as when it was first published more than thirty years ago.

“A book to be read twice . . . [Grimus] is literate, it is fun, it is meaningful, and perhaps most important, it pushes the boundaries of the form outward.”
Los Angeles Times

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:52:19 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"After drinking an elixir that bestows immortality upon him, a young Indian named Flapping Eagle spends the next seven hundred years sailing the seas with the blessing--and ultimately the burden--of living forever. Eventually, weary of the sameness of life, he journeys to the mountainous Calf Island to regain his mortality. There he meets other immortals obsessed with their own stasis and sets out to scale the island's peak, from which the mysterious and corrosive Grimus Effect emits. Through a series of thrilling quests and encounters, Flapping Eagle comes face-to-face with the island's creator and unwinds the mysteries of his own humanity. Salman Rushdie's celebrated debut novel remains as powerful and as haunting as when it was first published more than thirty years ago." -- back cover.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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