Salman Rushdie's latest novel takes as its hero a 55-year-old man in flight from his inner demons. Prof. Malik Solanka has recently left his loving wife and delightful little boy to lose himself in the maelstrom of New York City. Although friends berate him for his desertion and his wife and child warmly implore him to return, Solanka may well have had good reason to leave: One night, much to his horror, he found himself holding a kitchen knife over the body of his sleeping wife, the culmination, perhaps, of a lifetime of suppressed fury.
A native of India who has spent most of his adult life in England, Solanka first made his name as a historian of ideas. When Britain embraced the welfare state, Solanka bucked the trend by writing a book that sought to shift the focus from the role of the state to that of the individual. Much to his chagrin, his book later came to be described as a "pre/text" of Thatcherism, though that had not been his intention.
Solanka, indeed, sees Thatcherite Conservatism as "the counterculture gone wrong. It shared his generation's mistrust of the institutions of power and used their language of opposition to destroy the old power-blocs - to give power not to the people, whatever that meant, but to a web of fat-cat cronies."
Tired of academia, Solanka turned his talents to doll-making, of all things! Solanka's passion for creating highly detailed and individualistic dolls is, of course, similar to a novelist's passion for creating
By Salman Rushdie Random House 272 pp., $24.95
life-like characters.) His dolls went on to star in an educational television show that became a cult classic. Eventually, like his academic ideas, they took on a life of their own, maddeningly beyond the control of their original creator, but making him a very well-off man.
Solanka's personal furies and fears are microcosms of the larger world in which he finds himself in the year 2000: "The city boiled with money.... While the overheated citizenry was eating these many varieties of lotus, who knew what the city's rulers were getting away with - not the Guilianis and Safirs ... not these crude glove-puppets, but the high ones who were always there, forever feeding their insatiable desires, seeking out newness, devouring beauty, and always, always wanting more."
In the midst of the vulgar carnival of acquisition, a series of murders of wealthy young women remains unsolved. Solanka sometimes feels so out of control that he wonders if he himself might be the culprit.
Psychiatric help is out of the question, because Solanka distrusts doctors and the mood-altering drugs so widely prescribed to fix broken souls. "Redefinition was this industry's basic mode of operation. Unhappiness was redefined as physical unfitness, despair as a question of good spinal alignment. Happiness was better food, wiser furniture orientation, deeper breathing technique. Happiness was selfishness. The rudderless self was told to be its own steering mechanism ... while continuing to pay for the services of the new guides, the cartographers of the altered states of America."
Despite his contempt for the "rudderless self," however, Solanka holds an equally low opinion of people who try to anchor themselves in religious faith.
Deftly interweaving political, metaphysical, psychological, mythological, even cybernetic, variations on its central theme, from the ancient Greek Furies of revenge to the "fury" that fuels the process of creation, "Fury" is an acrid, sharp, self-critical portrait of an angry man in an anger-inducing world.
Merle Rubin reviews books regularly for the Monitor.