- 19 Sep 19
The Ingenious Gentleman
Unlike his literary namesake who read too many chivalric romances and ended up one blade short of a windmill, Rushdie’s Mr Quichotte’s – that’s his love letter writing pen name, he’s really out of work pharmaceutical salesman Ismail Smile - cheap television addiction and sudden redundancy prompts a cross-country quest to win the love of film star/chat show host/new Oprah/new Dulcinea Selma R. But before you can shout “Flann O’Brien!” the story switches to Sam DuChamp, author of ropey spy novels, who is composing Quichotte’s trans-American odyssey, one that mirrors his own situation - both men are estranged from their siblings - the more the novel progresses. It turns out that DuChamp is not his real name either, he, like Smile and Selma, hails from Mumbai. They're all immigrants adrift in this hyper-real version of Trump's America, a land of racism, where Quichotte is asked where his turban and beard are, and guns, including one that talks.
As it’s a Rushdie book, Quichotte’s son Sancho (of course) is wished into being during a meteor shower and helped, Pinocchioly, by talking crickets and blue fairies. There’s also sub plots involving wronged sisters, Dr. Smile’s - Ismail's corrupt cousin who laid him off in the first place - frighteningly effective fentanyl spray which leaks across both narratives, and CentCorp’s inter-dimensional doorway which offers an escape for characters that are falling apart from an America that is literally disintegrating, echoing what’s happening in our ‘real’ world in this crazy “Age of Anything-Can-Happen”.
As per usual, Rushdie tries to cram entire worlds between his covers so, alongside the nod to Cervantes, the novel also gleefully borrows from Ionesco (Mastodons!), Arthur C. Clarke (Gods! Aliens!), Nabokov, Melville and Lewis Carroll, as well as less lofty fare like Real Housewives and Candy Crush Saga. A brilliantly satirical, head-spinning, metafictional triumph.