Release date: September 3, 2019
“To each his/her/their own articulation of the universal Don.”– Quichotte, by Salman Rushdie
You know that feeling when you’re reading a book and you just pause for a second and think, “Damn, this is some good writing”? That’s the closest description I can give to the time I spent reading Quichotte. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, given Salman Rushdie’s well-deserved reputation as a masterful writer, but I feel like I need to reinforce it. This book is absurd and brilliant and hilarious and heartbreaking and so meta and I loved every minute of it.
Without giving too much away, let me sketch the plot for you. Sam DuChamp, author of mediocre spy fiction, decides to write one last book: something more literary, something that could make him look like a real, serious writer. Drawing inspiration from the classic Don Quixote, Sam crafts a tale of an old man who goes by the name Quichotte. With his wits addled from a lifetime watching too much TV, Quichotte decides he is in love with a famous actress and sets off across the country, accompanied by his imaginary son Sancho, to win her over. Meanwhile, DuChamp’s life is filled with drama of its own, and as time goes on, the line between fiction and reality begins to blur.
From plot to characters to linguistic brilliance, the novel excels on all fronts. Zany characters get themselves in way over their heads, managing to maintain distinct voices even as their fates become increasingly similar. The shift between third person for most characters and first person could come off as just “odd” but instead is oddly fitting. The pages are populated with witty quips like:
“To be a lawyer in a lawless time was like being a clown among the humorless: which was to say, either completely redundant or absolutely essential”
and pithy observations like:
“social media has no memory,”
and the storyline jumps back and forth between the pain and ridiculousness of our own world, and the equally painful and ridiculous world of a man on a futile quest for love.
This book isn’t for everyone, but it was definitely for me. What can I say? I love literary fiction, Indian literature, satire, and zany plotlines that simultaneously tackle major problems. Quichotte is all of that and so much more.
Rushdie has a penchant for verbosity, absurdity, playing tricks on the reader, absurdity, making more allusions than should probably be legal (works and characters referenced range from Doctor Who and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to Jessica Rabbit and Mario to Dante’s Inferno and the compositions of Beethoven), casually sniping about our current sociopolitical climate, absurdity, commentary on the immigrant experience, and taking the wildest of gags and simply running with them. Oh, and did I mention absurdity? It isn’t an easy read by any means; Rushdie makes you work for the payoff, juggling characters and storylines that seem increasingly random, only to have them all come together for a finale that is perfectly satisfying, if a little strange at first glance. It really is the most appropriate sort of ending for a book like this.
Dealing with topics including mental illness, racism, social media, “cancel” culture, political corruption, drug abuse, terminal illness, love, family, and the end of the world, the novel could have easily turned into a mishmash that lost sight of itself while trying to fit everything in. Instead, Rushdie’s deft hand manages to weave dozens of hot button issues into a bizarre but beautiful book that leaves you laughing all the way. This is pastiche elevated to a whole new level, and I am so glad I was able to read it.
In short, Quichotte is a brilliant, wild ride from start to finish. That’s really the most appropriate description for it. Be patient at the beginning, and don’t let the little details pass you by, but also don’t let them drag you down. Just fasten your seatbelt, prepare for some jarring terrain, and enjoy the journey.
Thank you to the publisher for providing an eARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.