The Best of the Booker – Midnight’s Children

The Man Booker Prize for Fiction is a literary prize awarded each year for the best original full-length novel, written in the English language, by a member of the Commonwealth. In 2008, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the award, they announced a shortlist of novels for “The Best of the Booker” which would determine which was the best of the previous winners.

The prize went to Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (which originally won the award in 1981).

Having often read previous Booker Prize winners with my book group, we decided that we should attempt “The Best of the Booker” which – being one of the highest-regarded novels of all time – would surely prompt a good discussion. We certainly set ourselves a challenge as the novel is over 600 pages long; has an unconventional, non-linear structure; and covers in-depth a period of Indian history and politics unfamiliar to us.

The novel is narrated by Saleem Sinai, a child born at the stroke of midnight on the eve of India’s independence from Britain. Prophesised to play an important role in India’s future, Saleem finds his life mirrors that of his entire country, and it’s political and social struggles. But Saleem is only one of a thousand “midnight’s children” born in that magical hour and others will also have their own role to play in the novel.

Reader’s expecting a straight-forward narrative will be disappointed, as our trusty narrator is not even born until a third of the way through the book! Instead Rushdie goes back to the very beginning, introducing Saleem’s grandparent’s, then following the lives of their children, and finally describing the meeting of Saleem’s parent’s and their conception of a son.

Midnight’s Children is certainly not an easy read but I can appreciate why it was awarded the prize as Salman Rushdie’s writing is outstanding, and his control of such a convoluted plot is to be admired. There is plenty of humour in the novel and it was also very educational to somebody who did not know much about India previously. I would recommend this book to others but would warn them to persevere beyond the early chapters.

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