Midnight's Children Writing Style
Fragmented, Sensory, Intertextual
Big surprise! The novel about a kid with a supernatural nose is jam packed with sensory description. Yeah, we know it's obvious, but it's still important to note since it's what helps us to really apreciate what it's like to have such an amazing schnoz.
When Saleem rides around his new home in Pakistan, Rushdie lays it on thick:
Motor-cars and graveyards I jointly classified as grey... there was, too, classification-by-weight: flyweight smells (paper), bantam odours (soap-fresh bodies, grass) […] while anger, patchouli, treachery and dung were among the heavyweight stinks of the earth. ( 2.22.30)
It goes on for a few more paragraphs, but we think you get the point. Smells categorized by color, a type of synesthesia that uses our other senses to help us understand just what huge amounts of scents Saleem can smell.
That part of the writing style makes things a little easier on us, but the next two make things a bit harder. This novel can be hard to read, and one of the reasons for this is how fragmented it is. We can be talking in the present day, zip back to Kashmir when it was still a princely state, and then move to the Indo Pakistani war. It's like a roller coaster.
It's hard to know where you are—let alone when you are—because conversations like this happen often:
[…] here is Mary Pereira, indulging in her fondness for making chutneys, kasaundies and pickles of all descriptions, and despite the cheery presence of her sister Alice there is something haunted in her face. "Hullo, Mary!" Padma—who seems to have developed a soft spot for my criminal ayah—greets her return to centre-stage. "So what's eating her?" (2.14.51)
Even though Saleem was talking about his childhood, Padma pokes her head in, bringing the present with her. It's more than a little confusing.
And this is the whopper: the intertextuality. The amount of literary, historical, religious, and all other kinds of references in this novel make it really hard to get all of the meanings in the text. Really, really hard. Check out this chunk of dense references:
Kali-Yuga-the losing throw in our national dice-game; [...] began on Friday, February 18th, 3102 b.c.; and will last a mere 432,000 years! Already feeling somewhat dwarfed, I should add nevertheless that the Age of Darkness is only the fourth phase of the present Maha-Yuga cycle which is, in total, ten times as long; and when you consider that it takes a thousand Maha-Yugas to make just one Day of Brahma, you'll see what I mean about proportion. (2.14.11)
Digest that for a while.
What reasonable author expects his audience to know about the cycle of Yugas, that we are in the last one which is called Kali Yuga, what that means, and how that fits into the concept of time as measured by the God Brahma's life? That's just crazy. But it works. Saleem has already made it clear to us that you have to understand a whole barrel of monkeys before you can even start to understand him.