A Fable of Fury

On the very first page of Shalimar the Clown, Salman Rushdie's new novel, the reader has a horrible presentiment that a literary disaster is in the making. Rushdie is trying to describe a woman speaking in her sleep: she is "like Sigourney Weaver channeling a demon in Ghostbusters." This is the kind of bathos—the desperation to prove his hipness by making asinine references to pop culture—that helped sink Rushdie's last novel, Fury, generally acknowledged to be the worst he has written. After a first-page blunder like this, it requires a leap of faith simply to turn to page 2. But...

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