...ranks among Rushdie’s most ambitious and provocative books ... Given its themes, the novel is a somber departure from the fable-like, comic style that has been Rushdie’s signature since his 1981 breakthrough, Midnight’s Children. But The Golden House still displays the quicksilver wit and playful storytelling of Rushdie’s best work. Through René, he weaves in screenplay dialogue and smash cuts, adding some snap to his typically labyrinthine prose. Nor has Rushdie lost his preternatural capacity to mash up mythology, religion, history and pop culture ... Rushdie makes his Nero a study in conflicts — magnanimous but corroded, generous yet neglectful of his children and the women in his life. In the process, Rushdie illuminates America’s conflicted self, too, where good and evil are in 'an uncomfortable and perhaps irreconcilable alliance.'”
[Rushdie] flits from the Romans to the Beatles, from The Odyssey to Obamacare, from Sophocles to Michael Jackson, with the same ease that his protagonist, Nero Golden, moves from Bombay to New York ... The Golden House reads like the work of an older, more jaded novelist, and the work itself often muses on the nexus between public and personal corruptions. The real-life rise of a politician Rushdie nicknames The Joker (much as he had once called a certain Indian female politician The Widow), has clearly rattled him. And yet, this is a recognizably Rushdie novel in its playfulness, its verbal jousting, its audacious bravado, its unapologetic erudition, and its sheer, dazzling brilliance ... Paradoxically, the novel’s weak spot is in its recounting of the 2016 election and its aftermath. Rushdie’s journalistic narration cannot match the period’s surrealness and rather than rising to the level of myth or allegory, his reportage occasionally resembles the language of countless Facebook posts.
Each sentence in it is a Cirque du Soleil leap into a net that only he can see. Each sentence seems to be composed of stardust, pixie dust, fairy dust, angel dust, fennel pollen and gris-gris powder, poached in single-udder butter, fried and refried, encrusted with gold as if it were a Gustav Klimt painting, and then dotted with rhinestones ... The effect is exhausting — and deadening. Anything can happen, so nothing matters. Rushdie is obsessed with 'characters,' as Alfred Kazin once said of John Irving, yet somehow does not evoke the more difficult thing: character. There is a reason to consider sticking with all 380 pages of The Golden House, however. It has little to do with the novel’s plot ... In Trump, Rushdie finds such a perfect villain that he finds it hard to let him go. The Trump character is named Gary 'Green' Gwynplaine, a wealthy vulgarian, born with green hair, who likes to refer to himself as the Joker. About this Joker, and about the threat he poses to an America this writer loves, it’s a treat to watch Rushdie let fly ... The Golden House has been billed by its publisher as Rushdie’s return to realism. Yet the New York City on offer is so gilded and remote that the novel reads like what one’s impressions would be if all one knew of it came from back issues of Vanity Fair magazine ... The Golden House is a big novel, wide but shallow, so wide it has its own meteorology. The forecast: heavy wind.
...[a] complex and witty fable ... Rushdie has rarely had much time for the untwisted realist narrative, and here too he puts his story through contortions. He is not telling us the Goldens’ story, René is, and René is not so much telling it as using it as material for a screenplay. Scenes are suddenly presented or recast as fragments of script, a peremptory 'Cut' or 'Dissolve' indicating that it’s time to move on; and films haunt the novel like antic ghosts, chief among them, unsurprisingly, The Godfather. In such times as ours, the fabular and mythic may provide more opportunities than the contemporary everyday; and certainly novelists such as Colm Tóibín and Kamila Shamsie have recently turned to the ancient world to find touchstones for new work. Rushdie has always been an impish myth-manipulator, refusing to accept, as in this novel, that the lives of the emperors can’t be blended with film noir, popular culture and crime caper. On the evidence of The Golden House, he is quite right.
All this is good fun, up to a point. But René becomes a tiresome companion. Partly because of his incessant film references (sometimes whole pages of them). Partly because of his addiction to celebrity roll calls ... Nero’s sons — Petronius, Lucius Apuleius and Dionysus, as they have chosen to call themselves (Petya, Apu and D, for short) — are all extraordinary characters...Collectively, their story lines are high-octane vehicles for observations on everything from art to gun violence, told with Rushdie’s customary brio and narrative panache, and the reader is happy to go along for the ride. The real weakness, the hollow heart of the novel, is René. The publisher’s description compares The Golden House to The Great Gatsby, and there’s more than one textual reference to Fitzgerald’s novel. Thus we look to René as a parallel Nick Carraway, to restore, perhaps, a moral compass to the proceedings. René, however, though he claims to be 'self aware,' never demonstrates that quality ... Perhaps this is cleverly reflective of 'our age of bitterly contested realities,' in which one man’s morality is another man’s evil. It may not be the novel we long for, but it could, just possibly, be the novel we deserve.
Speaking of Trump’s unlikely election, Rushdie recently told an interviewer, 'This thing that is very bad for America is very good for the novel,' but that sounds like fake news. In any event, Trump’s election is not very good for this novel, in which Rushdie pokes through the story whenever he wants to pop off about America’s poisonous political culture ... The story of Nero and his golden house is told by a handsome young neighbor named René, a far more involved and, alas, far less poetic narrator than Nick Carraway...Everything about this family spreading its influence and then crashing like the House of Usher comes to us in René’s confidential but bland voice ... Perhaps it wouldn’t feel so arduous to plod through this pile of worn phrases if the plot moved more quickly. There are elements of intrigue, including a bizarre sexual bargain on which the story hinges, but the most exciting revelation erupts late in the book, long after the mystery of Nero’s origins has cooled. Then, finally, we have to endure René nattering on about the loss of innocence, a theme we can smell like mildew as soon as we enter this airless novel.
René, a would-be film-maker, decides they are the perfect subject for a film, a 'mockumentary' as he puts it, in which he is free to imagine what is going on when he isn’t there. It’s an ingenious conceit, which gives Rushdie much greater scope as a writer than if he restricted himself (and us) to René’s viewpoint. It also mirrors the way we all see our neighbours, with only partial access to their lives; what we cannot see, we amuse ourselves by imagining ... At the centre of each character’s predicament lies the question of identity. Here Rushdie puts his finger on the existential crisis of our times and presses down hard ... The Golden House is not Brideshead or Gatsby – it is too rich and too riotous. Rather it is a modern Bonfire of the Vanities, New York seen from the inside and the outside, as only a writer of multiple selves such as Rushdie – Indian, British, now a New Yorker – could do. It is a novel about the many bubbles of the United States, written by somebody who has never had the luxury of living in one. His is a hard-won wisdom.
In Rushdie's hands, that actual place becomes a magical one, a setting for intrigue and tragedy ... In The Golden House, Rushdie skillfully mashes up all manner of mythic, literary and pop culture tales. One of the great pleasures of his fiction is sailing upon the sea of stories he has such mastery of and discovering what forms he will shape it into ... Not all myths are created equal, though. Some are rich and complex and show us what it truly means to be human; others are debased and coarse and perhaps shape our world in ways we should be wary of. Often in the world of myth, disorder within a powerful family is a symptom of greater disorder in the world at large, and that's certainly the case in The Golden House.
The Golden House is another American immigrant tale of successful assimilation, in this case to a culture that is destroying itself in a paroxysm of hatred and violence — crazed homicidal veterans, psychopathic gangsters and maleficent politicians. With Midnight’s Children, Rushdie gave lasting literary form to the painful birth of India. The Golden House is a dirge for the American dream. It is a Greek tragedy with Indian roots and New York coordinates. The new order in which the resplendent veneer of the Goldens is exposed as pyrite illuminates 'a kind of radical untruth: phoniness, garishness, bigotry, vulgarity, violence, paranoia.' Rushdie’s latest novel is a tonic addition to American — no, world! — literature.
Rushdie’s prose is beyond much reprieve—there are few contemporary artists who come to mind that possess his ability to craft sentences. In this regard, The Golden House, his latest novel, is no exception ... Rushdie forcefully brings today’s politics into play, a theme that complicates where The Golden House lands in our current cultural landscape of gifs and op-eds ... Trump, the man himself, creates the majority of the novel’s shortcomings. Rene summarizes the Donald’s meteoric rise in politics using an extended metaphor in which Hillary Clinton is Batwoman and Trump is the Joker, the punch line of DC in D.C., but the result feels reductive and cartoonish. It’s a flat jab that comes across as marshmallow satire ... Despite the softball cultural critiques, The Golden House is a joy to read when taken at face value. It’s hard to not have fun reading writing at Rushdie’s level of craftsmanship. It’s clever, intimidating, jocund, and electrifying, but seems a little too polite in a time of need.
The signatures of Rushdie’s fiction all appear – motifs of migration and reinvention, tortured father-son relationships, mythology, an intrusive, philosophizing narrator – yet tend to fall flat because while times have changed, Rushdie’s writing has not, making The Golden House feel like a rehash of old themes with a 21st-century gloss. When Rushdie’s groundbreaking novels Midnight’s Children and The Satanic Verses appeared in the 1980s, his playful skepticism towards universal 'Truth' felt edgy and postmodern, especially coming from an Indian writer grappling with the legacy of British colonialism. These days, however, suggesting truth is malleable, as Rushdie-via-René does, raises the specter of Holocaust deniers, climate change skeptics, and 'alternative facts.' It feels less playfully irreverent than irresponsible ... The true moral of The Golden House is that there’s a price to pay for fame. It was once a literal price on Rushdie’s life, intended to curtail the power and freedom of his writing. His tragedy now is no longer the threat of a career cut short, but the more banal one of a creative vision narrowed by the blinders of his own success.
Rushdie’s galvanizing epic of the fall of civilizations attacked from within is spiked with references to ancient Greece and Rome, the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, and a litany of recent American mass and police shootings and other horrific crimes. It is also electric with literary echoes from Homer, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, and Fitzgerald, and vivid with cinematic tributes to Buñuel, Bergman, and Hitchcock. This contextual amplitude is matched by narrative complexity as René experiments with different approaches to a story that is forever intensifying ... There is a scorching immediacy and provocation to Rushdie’s commanding tragedy of the self-destruction of a family of ill-gotten wealth and sinister power, of ambition and revenge, and the rise of a mad, vulgar, avaricious demigod hawking 'radical untruth' and seeding chaos. The Golden House is a headlines-stoked novel-on-fire sure to incite discussion. But it is also a ravishingly well-told, deeply knowledgeable, magnificently insightful, and righteously outraged epic that poses timeless questions about the human condition. Can a person be both good and evil? Is family destiny? Does the past always catch up to us? In a time of polarizing extremes, can we find common ground? Will despots and their supporters be forever with us? Will humankind ever learn? Can story and art enlighten us? As Rushdie’s blazing tale surges toward its crescendo, life, as it always has, rises stubbornly from the ashes, as does love.
The point is apparent: the times have produced an arbitrary, indiscriminate form of violence, whether by an organization or a lone nut that can catch any of us anywhere. But the book sheds little light on the America that produces that violence or how it shapes human action and interaction ... Rushdie wants us to see the numbers marching in the United States: 'a plague of jokers, crazy slashmouthed clowns frightening the children.' But the events just sit and stagnate, and I suspect the Goldens could have been anywhere else and still faced the same personal crises ... it’s hard to find someone who isn’t inexhaustibly — and exhaustingly — learned in The Golden House, Rushdie’s erudition flooding page after page, character after character...Rushdie, more than any of his contemporaries that I can think of, renovated our language in the 1980s. There are glimpses of that legacy here, but they’re overshadowed by the sounds of hard linguistic labor ... The denouement of this plot line is ultimately anticlimactic because it is crowded out by other plot lines, but it does offer a glimpse of what Rushdie can still achieve.
...a topical, razor-sharp portrait of life among the very rich, who are, of course, very different from the rest of us ... A sort of Great Gatsby for our time: everyone is implicated, no one is innocent, and no one comes out unscathed, no matter how well padded with cash.
...[a] ambitious and rewarding novel ... Replete with allusions to literature, film, mythology, and politics, the novel simultaneously channels the calamities of Greek drama and the information overload of the internet. The result is a distinctively rich epic of the immigrant experience in modern America, where no amount of money or self-abnegation can truly free a family from the sins of the past.