Knife: Meditations After an Attempted Murder by Salman Rushdie - review by Fergus Butler-Gallie

Fergus Butler-Gallie

Surviving Midnight

Knife: Meditations After an Attempted Murder

By

Jonathan Cape 224pp £20
 

‘Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now take what’s left and live it properly,’ wrote Marcus Aurelius in Meditations. I suspect the subtitle of Salman Rushdie’s Knife: Meditations After an Attempted Murder is an invitation to call to mind the last great Stoic philosopher. These words popped into my head while reading the book, written after the near-fatal attack on Rushdie that occurred at Chautauqua in upstate New York in August 2022, encapsulating as they do its core message. He supplies the same injunction again and again in italics throughout the text: ‘live’. It is part note to self, part sermon to the reader.

Throughout, the mundane sits alongside the existential. Rushdie recalls how, moments before the attack, he was introduced to an old friend’s elderly mother – ‘which was nice’. There is a touch of Hyacinth Bucket in his habit of mentioning acquaintances’ titles or achievements: he refers to the mother of his son as ‘Lady Berkeley, now happily married to the composer Michael Berkeley’ (she bought Rushdie junior a berth on the Queen Mary 2 so he could visit his ailing father). There are two mentions of a long-running dispute with Richard Littlejohn and an Alan Partidgean observation that he played ping-pong at a writers’ retreat ‘and did not disgrace myself’.

In some ways, these, rather than the more explicitly meditative parts, are the book’s most comforting passages. It is quite endearing to discover that Rushdie had E E Cummings’s ‘I carry your heart with me’ – often read in stultifying tones by a sister-in-law at Home Counties weddings – at

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