Today, 7 February 2023, is official publication day for ‘Victory City’, at the age of 75 Salman Rushdie’s twenty-first book and sixteenth work of fiction. Reviews are out already, for the most part favourable but at the same time alarmed. Without exception, readings of a novel set in India that combines historical fiction and magic realism will inevitably be coloured (even should they consciously not mention it) by the appalling circumstance of the attack on his life in New York state on 12 August 2022, which has left him with life-changing injuries including the loss of an eye, a kidney and the use of a hand. The novel was finished and with the publishers before that attack, but the fact that it happened will now inevitably affect reviewers’ and readers’ interpretations, and meantime Rushdie will be unable to promote the book in person. Whatever the presumed perpetrator may say, that heinous act was, 33 years on, obviously in implementation – partial but intended as full – of Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa of 14 February 1989.

The eminent French critic Roland Barthes wrote in his day of the ‘death of the author’, arguing that determining the meaning of a literary text may be confided to the reader. That philosophy fostered a whole generation of textual (rather than biographical) readings of literature. Such concerns are reflected today in the debates over whether one can or cannot separate the art from the artist. In the case of Rushdie, it is, paradoxically, the intended – and all but brought about – literal death of the author that now renders virtually impossible the application to this novel of the Barthesian death of the author. In the circumstances, roman à clef readings and various forms of biographical overinterpretation may be expected. I have just received my copy of Rushdie’s book and will be reviewing it as soon as I have read it. I cannot project in advance in what will consist my reading amid so many, but while I feel this is likely to prove to be one of the best of its author’s works, I am sure that, for us all, in order to read this novel it will be impossible not to take into account not only the intended or imagined death, but also, quite literally and in its different dimensions, the life of the author.

Note: for my review, see entry for 13 March 2023 on this blog.


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