Criticism of Shame
Shame, published in 1983, a year before his most famous work The Satanic Verses, presents a fabulistic account in a country that disturbingly represents Pakistan. Critically, Shame is compared to Midnight s Children because the of its resemblances in themes and style. The idea for Shame, reported interviewer Ronal Hayman in Books and Bookmen, grew out of Rushdie s interest in the Pakistani concept of sharam, a word that denotes a hybrid of embarrassment, discomfiture, decency, modesty, and a sense of having an ordained place in the world. Reaction to Shame was mostly positive; many applauded the style of Rushdie s work and the themes it presented .
Many critics appreciated the subject matter and presentation of Rushdie s work. Cathleen Medwick in Vogue stated, “His new novel. . . reveals the writer in sure control of his extravagant, mischievous, graceful, polemical imagination. (414, Editor) “Magic realism”, a technique often employed by Rushdie is essential to the structure of how the story of the book is conveyed. Michael Gorra s characterization of Rushdie s style stated, “His prose prances, a declaration of freedom, an assertion that Shame can be whatever he wants it to be coy and teasing an ironic and brutal all at once. . .[Rushdie s work] is responsive to the world rather than removed from it, and it is because of this responsiveness that the mode in which he work represents the continued life of the novel. . . and one wants something better to describe it that the term magical realism is an assertion of individual freedom in a world where freedom is strangle. . . “(360, Editor) Christopher Lehmann-Haupt boldly asserts, “If Mr. Rushdie had followed [the logic of realistic psychology] in Shame, he would have robbed his novel of its spectral magic, its breakdown of narrative logic that allows time to rush suddenly forward and reveal the end of things, or permits characters to be reincarnated in each other. He would have robbed his novel of the truth not precisely the truth of the parable or allegory or myth, but the truth of a narrative that describes a world apart and is a system accurate and logical only unto itself”(356, Editor) Lehmann-Haupt then goes on to compare Shame to Midnight s Children: “. . .this doesn t begin to account for the extravagantly tragicomic nightmare evoked by Shame, which does for Pakistan what Mr. Rushdie s equally remarkable first novel, Midnight s Children did for Inida.”(356, Editor) Una Chaudhuri review of Shame digressed from Haupt s review in that it compares Shame and Midnight s Children differently. She declares, “Shame has a vast and exotic a cast of characters as Midnight s Children, and it is as rich in incident, yet it is a wholly different sort of book. History here is a collective fantasy clinging to the dusty deserts and dilapidated cities of reality, not-emanating from the wild imagination of a single, terribly self-conscious narrator. The laughter it provokes is consequently edged with familiar pain and the marvels it contains are never free of palpable horror.”(357, Editor)
When compared to The Satanic verses, the books length is miniscule. Chaudhuri applauded this by saying that “Shame is profoundly disturbing book. Courageously, Rushdie has resisted the temptation to write another exuberant epic. Instead, he has created a concentrated and dark masterpiece, an answer to those who may claim that certain evils of modern history are beyond either representation or translation.”(357, editor) Patrick Parrinder agrees with Chaudhuri by admitting, “Shame, his most tightly-controlled and perhaps his best novel to date. . . It is as if the Decameron or Arabian Nights had been yoked with the Sub-Continental equivalent Animal Farm. In another criticism for the same book he comments, “his own profuse and multiply-branching fictions do not give the impression that anything has been prevented from being told (219, Editor).
Like Midnight s Children, Shame has affirmed Rushdie s eminence as a gifted writer. Perhaps, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt had praised Rushdie among his peers most appropriately with his statement, “. . . Milan Kundera, Franz Kafka, Nikolai Erdmann and George Buchner. Here and there in the text, one can t help thinking of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. These are extraordinary writers with whom to be associated, but it s company that Salman Rushdie deserves.” Indeed, with the melange of political narrative and cultural contemplation found in Shame, it is undoubtedly one of Rushdie s best works yet.