Published by Random House LLC on 2011-11-02
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Magical Realism
Source: Owned Audible Book
The ground shifts repeatedly beneath the reader's feet during the course of Salman Rushdie's sixth novel, a riff on the Orpheus and Eurydice myth set in the high-octane world of rock & roll. Readers get their first clues early on that the universe Rushdie is creating here is not quite the one we know: Jesse Aron Parker, for example, wrote "Heartbreak Hotel"; Carly Simon and Guinevere Garfunkel sang "Bridge over Troubled Water"; and Shirley Jones and Gordon McRae starred in "South Pacific." And as the novel progresses, Rushdie adds unmistakable elements of science fiction to his already patented magical realism, with occasionally uneven results.
Rushdie's cunning musician is Ormus Cana, the Bombay-born founder of the most popular group in the world. Ormus's Eurydice (and lead singer) is Vina Apsara, the daughter of a Greek American woman and an Indian father who abandoned the family. What these two share, besides amazing musical talent, is a decidedly twisted family life: Ormus's twin brother died at birth and communicates to him from "the other side"; his older brothers, also twins, are, respectively, brain-damaged and a serial killer. Vina, on the other hand, grew up in rural West Virginia where she returned home one day to find her stepfather and sisters shot to death and her mother hanging from a rafter in the barn. No wonder these two believe they were made for each other.
Narrated by Rai Merchant, a childhood friend of both Vina and Ormus, The Ground Beneath Her Feet begins with a terrible earthquake in 1989 that swallows Vina whole, then moves back in time to chronicle the tangled histories of all the main characters and a host of minor ones as well. Rushdie's canvas is huge, stretching from India to London to New York and beyond--and there's plenty of room for him to punctuate this epic tale with pointed commentary on his own situation: Muslim-born Rai, for example, remarks that "my parents gave me the gift of irreligion, of growing up without bothering to ask people what gods they held dear.... You may argue that the gift was a poisoned chalice, but even if so, that's a cup from which I'd happily drink again." Despite earthquakes, heartbreaks, and a rip in the time-space continuum, The Ground Beneath Her Feet may be the most optimistic, accessible novel Rushdie has yet written
I love audio books. In the author’s notes on the audio version of Joe Hill’s NOS4A2, he talks about how the first stories we learn are read to us. I listen to audio books when I’m in the car, shopping, and playing Candy Crush.
In typical book blogger fashion, I already have a tbr shelf just for audio books. Reviewing them is a bit more difficult, because I don’t take notes and I don’t always know how to spell the characters names. So these reviews will be a little different from my book reviews.
It took me over a decade to finally read this book. I’ve never read anything by Salman Rushdie, and honestly if U2 hadn’t released a song that’s based on a song in the book, I probably would never have thought that I’d read a Rushdie novel. But I love the song The Ground Beneath Her Feet so much, that I bought this book the first time I saw it. But I never got past the first few pages, and over the course of more than a decade, after many moves, I no longer have a physical copy. It was one of the very first books I bought on Audible though. I can’t say that I’m much of a fan of literary fiction, but I kind of feel like Rushdie’s writing style is a slightly more elegant version of the way Quentin Tarentino thinks and speaks. Although, it could also be because I listened to the book at 3x speed…
The story is based on the Orpheus mythology, how he went to the underworld to rescue his love (although that did not go well, since he became impatient and broke the one rule he wasn’t supposed to break- and no, it wasn’t that he talked about Fight Club). Only in this case, Eurydice is siren of a singer, Vina, and she has not one but two lovers desperate to bring her back after an earthquake swallows her whole.
There is so much going on here, and the book takes place in so many wonderful places that Rushdie brings to life- from Hopewell, VA (near where I live now!), to India, to England, to America and Mexico, we are transported with the three main characters and those they come in contact with. The two men vying for Vina’s heart are complete opposites, but Vina is not your typical person- she’s bigger and brighter, and in this tale it’s the woman who gets to have her cake and a little pie on the side. Both men love her so much, are so enthralled with her, that they willingly turn a blind eye to her sleeping around.
I really enjoyed the magical realism that permeates the story. It takes place in a slightly altered universe (for instance, John Kennedy is saved from the one assassination plot, only to die under the same bullet that takes away his brother, Bobby, certain bands and stars are replaced by similar acts, some events are delayed or never happen, which will thrill you history buffs out there, but I doubt I caught more than just the super glaring and obvious ones). Rai, her quieter lover, narrates the story, he includes tales of their parents, and how they all came to be who they are, where there life’s intersected. Vina and Ormus’ love story is laid out, and while it’s clear that Rai might have been the better choice for her, it’s Ormus who is the other half of Vina.
Also, Ormus has a brother who’s a serial killer and Vina’s mom killed her entire family save Vina. So of course, that makes this my kind of book. 😉
This is a long book, but it’s charming, although like Vina, it can be crude at times as well. I’m so glad I finally read it, even if it wasn’t quite what I thought it would be. I wasn’t expecting to like it, so that’s a good thing that it surprised me! To be honest, I feel a little smarter and well-read just from listening to it (although again, I’m not as smart at this book is). I feel like Rai and Vina, and to some extent Ormus, have taken up residence with the many other literary characters I somehow keep stored in my brain. I think of them, especially Rai, as real people I once knew. And you know how some book summaries call a book epic and it’s not at all epic? This is an example of a book actually living up to the epic promise!
Steven Crossley did a wonderful narration of this book. He’s narrated a LOT of books, but this is my first encounter with him. He’s got a great voice and does some impeccable accents. Interestingly enough, he narrates several Ian McEwan novels- and a few romance novels too! If I had any complaints about his voice it would only be that it was weird to be told about Vina’s amazing singing voice but not be able to hear it for ourselves. To be fair, though, I don’t know any female narrators or singers that sound how I picture Vina sounding… still with me? Because I just confused myself.
Suffice to say, Crossley was a wonderful narrator, and without him this book probably would have lingered another 10 years on my tbr shelves. I would definitely listen to some of the other books he narrates!