- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 28, 2001

In classical mythology, the dreaded Furies were the winged avengers of the Underworld, keepers of the social order, punishing those who violated that order by sending them into madness. Crimes against one's kin incurred the Furies' vengeance, as did murder, and murderers would wander from one place to another, restless, hounded by the Furies, tormented by mental anguish.
Oedipus, Orestes and Agamemnon all felt the Furies' wrath. So too does Malik Solanka, the middle-aged protagonist of Salman Rushdie's virtuosic new novel a Swiftian inquiry into the anatomy of disappointment, disenchantment and rage. Native of Bombay, retired historian of ideas, cantankerous intellectual, maker of dolls, Solanka has fled his home in England, in the summer of 2000, for the Upper West Side of Manhattan, having abandoned a wife and young son.
For Solanka, however, the Furies are not actual creatures, but manifestations of his own guilty conscience; he has committed a sin against his family, not only by his leaving an act that his wife finds inexplicable but also by his nearly killing her. For after a fight one night, Solanka takes a carving knife up to his bedroom, where his wife lies sleeping, and holds it over her slumbering body, poised to kill.
Long before this fateful moment, however, Solanka's rage had been festering. He had achieved the great success of his life by fashioning numerous dolls modeled after noted philosophers, Machiavelli, Socrates and Galileo among them. But when the British Broadcasting Corporation had commissioned Solanka to develop a series of television shows featuring his dolls, to be hosted by his greatest creation, the female doll Little Brain, she who traveled through time interrogating the various philosopher-dolls popularized history at its most comical the professor began to lose creative control of his enterprise. Little Brain became a media darling, a commercial sensation, a recording artist, a star of her own music video, and the doll's formidable intellect, despite her little brain, was dumbed down before Solanka's very eyes to that "of a slightly overaverage chimpanzee."
"With every new media initiative spearheaded by the character he had once delineated with such sprightliness and care," Mr. Rushdie writes, "[Solankas] impotent fury grew." Little Brain came to stand "for everything he despised." He severed his ties to his own creations, cast out his collection of Little Brain dolls from his house; "he was the murderer of his fictional offspring: not flesh of his flesh but dream of his dream." Like Kronos, he devoured his young.
And so, with metaphorical murder and nearly attempted actual murder on his conscience, wealthy, angry Malik Solanka comes to America to remake himself, to "be free of attachment and so also of anger, fear, and pain." But every bit as potent as Solanka's inner fury is the fury of New York City in the beginning of the 21st Century, a place obscenely rich, drunk with power, consumed with consumerism, blitzed by a steady dose of advertising, movies and television. A city forever loud, with sirens blaring, music beating, cars honking, workmen laughing, cabbies cursing, people cell-phoning. "He had come in search of silence and found a loudness greater than the one he left behind. The noise was inside him now."
And yet, the New World attracts Solanka, too (just as Mr. Rushdie's narrator embraces popular culture): "Yes, it had seduced him, America; yes, its brilliance aroused him, and its vast potency too, and he was compromised by this seduction." This tension, among other things, feeds Solanka's rage, his fury toward the world and toward himself. "He knew he had not shaken the Furies off," Mr. Rushdie writes. "A low, simmering, disconnected anger continued to seep and flow deep within him, threatening to rise up without warning in a mighty volcanic burst; as if it were its own master, as if he were merely the receptacle, the host, and it, the fury, were the sentient, controlling being."
Solanka goes on tirades, explodes with anger, curses in public without ever being conscious of doing so. Given his frequent blackouts, he thinks he might even be responsible for the murders of three society girls. The irony, of course, is that Solanka contributes, with every public outburst, with every electrical surge of anger, to the very noise he detests, the deafening din of the city.
What is the source of Solanka's rage? Not only guilt, I think, not only self-loathing. It has to do with Solanka's innate need to create, and especially to manipulate; when he carved his dolls, thought up their intricate life stories, animated those wooden lifeless things, and ultimately banished them, he was, like Shiva, both creator and destroyer. He was the supreme deity of his imagined world. It is the real world, the volatile everyday world, that he cannot control. And so he recoils from the actual, rages against it self-destructively.
In mythology, only by finding someone to purify their tormented souls can those pursued by the Furies be saved. Here, two women serve as purifiers of sorts: Mila Milo and the young and unbearably beautiful Neela. Of Indian extraction but born and raised in the South Pacific island of Liliput-Blefuscu (perhaps the book's most overtly Swiftian echo), Neela has the power to heal, to fill Solanka's void, to melt away his anger. And guided by Mila, Solanka eventually goes back to work, producing a new line of dolls, "seeking his redemption in creation."
But when he realizes how his inanimate creations give rise to uncontrollable abomination (I won't say how, only that the plot reveals Mr. Rushdie's genius for satire, irony and stinging black comedy), he decides to return to the animate life he has created: his son, Asmaan. Forgotten and neglected and pathetic Asmaan. But though the novel's denouement is moving, it is also deeply troubling, suggesting as it does that Solanka has not yet learned to overcome his own paralyzing self-absorption, to accept his fate as an ultimately flawed creator. His need to reclaim his son has less to do with selfless love, I think, than it does with the need to assume creative control, so to speak, of his son's life, which is all he has left in the end.
"Fury" is full of the linguistic brilliance we have come to expect from Mr. Rushdie: the puns, the clever wordplay, the manipulation of etymologies. The pace is manic at times, the voice improvisational. Some novelists write books resembling symphonies; by contrast Mr. Rushdie's novels are full-blown, pyrotechnic cadenzas. And though this one feels as if it had been written quickly, furiously, as if Mr. Rushdie sat down one morning and simply let it all out, one cannot help admiring the control of his thematic aims, the superb mythological underpinning, the fact that few writers attempt such bold novels of ideas these days and that even fewer succeed.
In Mr. Rushdie's novel we also find disconcerting prophecy. Reading "Fury" in the aftermath of Sept. 11, I was struck by the writer's description not only of individual fury, but also nationalistic fury the rage of other nations directed toward America. And I was struck by one particularly haunting passage:
"The whole world was burning on a shorter fuse. There was a knife twisting in every gut, a scourge for every back. We were all grievously provoked. Explosions were heard on every side. Human life was now lived in the moment before the fury, when the anger grew, or the moment during the fury's hour, the time of the beast set free or in the ruined aftermath of a great violence, when the fury ebbed and chaos abated, until the tide began, once again, to turn. Craters in cities, in deserts, in nations, in the heart had become commonplace. People snarled and cowered in the rubble of their own misdeeds."
We live now in the hour of fury. The question is: What will the world look like, what will America be, when the beast has been caged again?

Sudip Bose is associate editor of Preservation magazine.


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