My first draft of this review began with the sentence: ‘Quichotte is a mess’. However, in looking around at other critiques, I came across an NPR review saying the exact same thing. Which feels validating, but I wouldn’t want to feel as if I were plagiarizing. So here we are. I’ve called out my reference so it’s still an original comment.
Or is it?
I’m not going to go into the plot of Quichotte too much. It’s a sort of but sort of not re-imagining of Don Quixote told by a fictional Indian-born, English author of spy novels now living in America, written by a real Indian-born, English author of novels now living in America. It’s quirky, has good humanizing elements, and is very much a book intended to offer a metacommentary on literature as well as a critique of American culture. And it does these things pretty well. It’s engaging, at times poignant (Rushdie is very sympathetic in his exploration of the writer and his family), and at times funny. Other reviews cover the plot, but you wouldn’t be wasting your time in reading the book. It’s pacy and entertaining.
I found Quichotte intriguing and wanted it to blow me away. But some elements didn’t quite sit right. The first is that Rushdie is too heavy-handed with his references and research. A lot of things are thrown in more to show that he knows them than because they lend anything to the plot, character development, or broader point of the novel. I also suspect that some of the cultural references will date the book fast. This isn’t necessarily a problem: it’s fine for a book to be of the moment. But some things felt a little dated even while I was reading. And the book’s just come out.
I like that Quichotte exists and I think I like Rushdie more for having written it (Rushdie himself, or at least the reader’s idea of Rushdie, is the target of much of the book). I’m not convinced that Quichotte completely hits the mark it was aiming for, but I love its ambition.