Salman Rushdie is probably one of the most well known writer of literary fiction in the world. His fame is not based on his great technique, social or personal insight, prose style or any of the other things that a writer may wish to be famous for. Salman Rushdie is famous for The Satanic Verses, and for the anger it provoked, leading to him being sentenced to death by the fatwa of the Ayatollah Khomeini. For reasons of both his personal safety and his literary reputation, this is probably not what Salman Rushdie wants to most be remembered for. And yet, the furor of the controversy over The Satanic Verses will probably overshadow Rushdie's skills as a writer.
And this brings us to Fury, a short novel written and published in 2000. The book predates the World Trade Center attacks, although it does seem to be vaguely prophetic, in that it takes place in New York City and the anger of the third world, and those of Islamic origin, are themes of the book. But let me back up and say that when I started reading it, I didn't know that: all I knew was Rushdie's fame, and that his writing was considered to be literary and complicated. My first impression upon reading the book was that Rushdie was obviously a skilled and interesting writer, stylistically using a great deal of complicated descriptions, and having plots and characters and interludes that were both entertaining and complex. Until about half way into the book, however, I was somewhat annoyed with the overall tone of the book. The book is about an Indian professor from Cambridge, who has also incidentally invented a doll and television show resembling Dora the Explorer, who has suddenly moved to New York City for reasons of great personal rage. What was annoying to me about this is that it seemed like an author insertion tract, where the protagonist was used to voice the author's typical left wing bourgeois opinions. In other words, this seemed like a book written by a professional leftist literati where the main character was a professional leftist literati who spent his time complaining. It was also, despite a few odd incidents, a fairly straightforward book.
About halfway through the book, however, the various odd plot strands and characters started to coalesce. They did so in a variety of odd and interesting ways that made the book into the proverbial "page turner". For example, there is a plot surrounding the deaths of a trio of young society women, who the protagonist's best friend, a successful but troubled African-American journalist, is somehow involved in. From its original realistic plot, the twists and convolutions become more ridiculous, while never crossing the line into outright fantasy. For example, there is a plot late in the novel about a civil war on the South Pacific Island of Lilliput and Blefuscu, which despite taking its name from Gulliver's Travels, is actually a fairly accurate fictionalization of the civil war fought in Fiji in the year 2000.
If any of this sounds confusing, it should: one of the best things about the novel is that it manages to sprawl. Although not a very long book---only 250 pages in trade paperback size, it somehow manages to have a confusing, intricate series of plots, with a great amount of descriptions of various odd people and places. It also has a great deal of literary references, to things such as Winnie-the-Pooh, Dune, Gulliver's Travels, and Greek Mythology. And all of this comes off as natural, and not as forced or pretentious.
So the biggest upshot from this is that I now know Mr. Rushdie as a truly original and skilled writer, and that his books are worthwhile to read outside of the controversy he engendered over two decades ago.