Hey, so did you know that Salman Rushdie doesn’t like Donald Trump? Because he doesn’t. He really, really hates him, in fact. I know this because I read the Golden House, which is ostensibly about Rene and his relationship with his neighbors, the Golden Family, but it is actually quite a bit about the fact that Donald Trump became president and Rushdie didn’t like it. This is good and bad, in some ways the device works, but in others it was a little too ham handed for my taste.
Our narrator, René is a young man who just finished Film School. His parents are very well respected academics, and he grew up in Manhattan on a rather tony block, part of the private MacDougal-Sullivan Gardens. René has lived here his whole life, the neighbors are, in many ways, part of his extended family. At the start of the book, one house has always been pretty much empty until now- The Goldens, Nero and his sons Petronius, Apu, and D have moved to the gardens to reinvent themselves. They are friendly, and do become part of the community in their own way, but they have changed their names and refuse to talk about who they used to be or where they are from. Very soon, Nero has added a new Russian wife to the mix. This is all extremely intriguing to René who decides he is going to get to know this family, and if he can figure out what is behind all this secrecy.
In the background, the events of the 2016 elections play out as The Joker vs The Batwoman. I see what Rushdie was doing with this, and in a lot of ways the parable works, but it also gets a little old. Part of this may be Trump fatigue for me. I am a little over hearing him described as a mad clown. He is far more dangerous than that and these dismissive descriptions, not just in the book, but in the world at large are getting a little old for me.
Anyway, as we learn about the Goldens and their lives and secrets we see that this would be an epic movie… there is intrigue, betrayal, crime, passion, sex, murder… everything you could want. But is it René’s movie to make? Even if he does fictionalize it, which is his plan, can he fictionalize it enough to not make him a crappy person for airing his friends’ dirty laundry all over the world? Or do they deserve it for having the dirty laundry to begin with? What makes a man a “Bad Person” as opposed to “a man who made some mistakes?” or “a man who played the hand he was dealt?”
The sons are all bizarre in their own ways, though not in unbelievable ways. D especially spoke to me personally. He probably has the most quiet, personal journey, but one that will be familiar to many. The narrator, René also has a significant coming-of-age journey though this book. I’m going to be honest, he bugs me, he isn’t a bad guy, but he’s a rich, spoiled liberal who has never had to make a difficult decision in his life and at multiple points I wanted to slap him hard. It works here, but I’m not a person who needs to like my narrator.
While there were a lot of things I did like in this book, there were a few things that were harder for me. Ultimately, this is a whole bunch of ridiculously rich people playing out their own little Payton Place in a ridiculously exclusive 1% neighborhood. As engaging as the story is, there are several points where I just wanted to play the world’s tiniest violin for the whole lot of them. At times this is addressed, at times it isn’t. Overall it isn’t good or bad, it probably won’t bug others as much as it did me, honestly.
This really isn’t a political satire- though in many of the descriptors I saw it was described that way. I would think it’s more about family politics, and the fact that politics of the day can creep into parts of our lives we don’t expect them to. It is also a very dense book. It’s less than 400 pages, but it took me about twice as long to read it as a book this size normally would. It isn’t dull, just dense, so I had to take my time getting through it. I feel like that is a good heads up to have, so I’m adding it in here.