I always have vaguely mixed feelings about Salman Rushdie's books. On the one hand I actually really like them. I think they're really interesting and have loads of great ideas in them and he uses loads of really good words (which seems like an odd thing to say but I have a book of lovely words that will one day feature on this blog and that I'm slowly filling with really good words, so reading his works always helps me fill that book a bit more). On the other hand, I never find myself gripped by them. If I'm being completely honest, I got a little tired of this book at times and definitely found myself sitting down with determination to finish it so I could read something else. Which is a shame because there was so much of this that I found really interesting and it should really be more of my cup of tea.
I did classical studies at university and ended up doing mostly ancient Greek things, so I was really excited about this when I started it because it's all based around Orpheus and Eurydice. Add to that the threads of rock music and photography and it should be one of my favourite books! I can't even entirely put my finger on why it's not, there are parts of the book that just didn't grab me. Everything is always so detailed and I didn't always feel like I cared about what was being described. That being said, there were lots of things I did like about it. It takes a while for you to realise that the world being presented is a different version of our own reality but I thought that was interesting and I liked being able to recognise little hints of things that were different.
Another thing I really liked was the exploration of shadow selves. I'm a big Margaret Atwood fan and her books have this recurring feature of a shadowy other, usually in juxtaposition to the narrator, and Negotiating With the Dead talks about it in more detail:
"the double is more than twin or sibling. He or she is you, a you who shares your most essential features - your appearance, your voice, even your name - and, in traditional societies, such doubles were usually bad luck"
The idea of 'others' runs throughout this novel; Ormus' dead twin Gayo, Rai as the shadow Ormus doesn't realise he has, Maria as Vina's shadowy rival, Mira as Vina's successor, there are loads of them and their roles are quite ambiguous. Ormus spends his whole life trying to chase down different others, whether it's chasing Gayo to hear the music, hunting down Vira's shade after her death, trying to find the other man in her life, he's continually grasping at shadows but never really succeeds. Continuing on from this I also really enjoyed the idea of the multiple realities colliding and the way this manifested itself physically. I thought the Underworld imagery that was drawn upon towards the end of the novel was interesting, along with Rai's debate around the links between Eurydice and Persephone. I love me some exploration and reimagining of Greek mythology (or just mythology in general really, I'm not fussy) so some of my favourite moments ended up being the bits that explored all of that.
I'm definitely glad that I read this book because it was interesting, and I know I'm going to be mulling it over for a while, but I also find myself glad that it's over. I shall leave you all with the U2 song of the same name which I've been listening to while writing this. I know it has the Salman Rushdie seal of approval and I quite like it, I think it captures how I imagined VTO sounding and it does feel a little underworldy in ways.