Being beastly to Salman

In what seemed like a campaign against the author, who has moved from Britain to the United States, the novel was met in advance by a chorus of premature dispraise.

There had been word of mouth about Fury for months. It was, gossip declared, about his latest divorce and the new love in his life, the delectable Padma Lakshmi. So that was why he had his eyelids fixed and lost 15kg! And, of course, he had deserted London for New York on the grounds that its reviewers were “provincial” and “bitchy”. He’ll pay for that, one prophesied. And he has.

The first big review of Fury came out in the Times on August 15: three full weeks before the book was supposed to hit the stores. This led to other papers jumping the gun, which in turn led to bookshops trying to get ahead of each other and putting the book on the shelves before the official launch date.

The Times review, by the paper’s literary editor, Erica Wagner, set the pattern. It was embellished with a picture of “Rushdie and his girlfriend” and was, from beginning to end, an assault. “Ah, to be a woman at the sharp end of Salman Rushdie’s compliments,” Wagner sighed.

On August 20, in came George Walden in the London Evening Standard. He had been sniping at Rushdie ever since The Ground Beneath Her Feet, a novel which allegedly betrayed the high culture he (Walden) stands for. Nor, one might think, was a former Tory minister an ideal choice of reviewer. Another lead, another showbiz pic, another hatchet job (“unsatisfying at every level”).

The broadsheets came in two weeks early, on the weekend of August 25. With one exception (this reviewer in The Guardian) their judgement was stridently hostile. Reviewers vied with each other in condescension and nastiness.

Typical was Matt Thorne’s verdict in the Independent on Sunday: “Rushdie has long been overrated as a novelist, but after three major duds in a row, it must be time for his relegation from the premier league.”

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