The Ground Beneath Her Feet
Published by Henry Holt
1999, 592 pages
Read an excerpt of the book.
The Earth Moves
Reviewed by Linda L. Richards
In his seventh novel, Salman Rushdie brings us an epic report about western life at the end of the second millennium. The story centers on Vina Apsara and her lover Ormus Cama, a pair who have brought almost unthinkable influence and change to western music: to rock and roll. Together their music has dwarfed that of the Beatles and The Rolling Stones and any other influential group you might care to name. Apsara and Cama have been the pair that all others have given their props to throughout the tumultuous last three decades of rock. Their story -- the story of their love, music and rise to the heights of their lives and influence -- is told by Rai, a photographer who was Ormus' and Vina's childhood friend and who becomes Vina's sometime lover.
What's a "culture"? Look it up. "A group of micro-organisms grown in a nutrient substance under controlled conditions." A squirm of germs on a glass slide is all, a laboratory experiment calling itself a society. Most of us wrigglers make do with life on that slide; we even agree to feel proud of that "culture." Like slaves voting for slavery or brains for lobotomy, we kneel down before the god of all moronic microorganisms and pray to be homogenized or killed or engineered; we promise to obey.
We know a few things about Salman Rushdie. We know, for instance, that he is perhaps one of the most illusive writers of this generation. His name is a household word, and his work -- or at least his reputation -- as familiar as that of any of his contemporaries. He is also completely unique among that rarest of rare creatures: the international bestseller. Rushdie doesn't seem to feel the need to crank out a formula bestseller with the clockwork-like schedule of a Grisham or a Steele. Nor does he seem to hold to any preconceptions of what a novel should be or what it should contain. Rushdie's novels, therefore, are predictable in their unpredictableness. Big fat tomes just often enough to keep the literarti twittering between releases and ambiguous enough that the name Rushdie and the word movie seem never to be said in the same breath.
Meanwhile, Vina's playboy lover had been taken to hospital in the grip of drug-induced seizures so extreme that they eventually proved fatal, and for days afterwards, because of what happened to Vina, the world was treated to detailed analyses of the contents of the dead man's bloodstream, his stomach, his intestines, his scrotum, his eye sockets, his appendix, his hair, in fact everything except his brain, which was not thought to contain anything of interest, because it had been so thoroughly scrambled by narcotics that nobody could understand his last words, spoken during his final, comatose delirium.
One sentence. So completely jammed with stuff it's difficult to keep up. Yet an effect is achieved: the rat-tat-tat pace is crucial to these early passages and sets the pace for what will follow. But don't expect an easy course.
Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine. Her fourth novel, Death was the Other Woman, will be published early in 2008 by St. Martin's Minotaur.