RARE BOOK GUIDE - THE RUNNERS, THE RIDERS & THE ODDS

27 February 2008

Salman Rushdie. Midnight's Children, 1981.


Salman Rushdie. MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN. Jonathan Cape, London, 1981.

Current Selling Prices
$1500-$3500 /£800-£1800


MODERN FIRST EDITION / BOOKER PRIZE
Winner of the Booker Prize in 1981 and awarded "The Booker of Bookers" in 1993 for the best Booker Prize winning novel in the first twenty five years of the award. The work is regarded by many critics and readers as the great classic of the late twentieth century. Another critic (Jonathan Bate) quoted in a previous entry on Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude wrote: 'Let us hope that [it] will not generate one hundred years of overwritten, overlong, overrated novels. Enough that it has already inspired such excrescences as Angela Carter's Nights at the Circus and Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children.' With a discernible backlash against magic realism, with which Rushdie is forever associated, the book is no longer rated as highly as it was - except by earnest book dealers trying to shift it. As a great story teller he will always be collected and many people who were underwhelmed by Midnight's Children were delighted by 'Haroun'--but as a prose stylist he is not seen to be in the class of Nabokov or Borges, and falls a long way short of his ingenious contemporary Martin Amis. It is not the most difficult Booker to find, that honour belongs to Middleton's 'Holiday'. However it is possibly the most valuable - a fine copy in jacket (the spine of which tends to fade) can command over £1000 especially if signed.

There are some dealers charging considerably more than this for copies signed with pre Fatwa signatures--one asking a 'dream on' £5K says of his: '...the signature is nothing like the (understandable) scrawl you get today, but strikingly full, long and beautiful and really different from anything we have seen over the years.' It is true that signed Rushdie books in this century are very common and the signature is hasty, if not perfunctory. The king of the 'get lost' signature is old rocker Lou Reed--on some of his books it looks pretty much like two straight lines and would shame a GP -it goes something like this '___ ____'. They are still quite saleable, mainly because he is unapproachable and unpleasant and perhaps because he is one of the supreme songwriters.

The cheapest signed Lou out there is 'Pass Thru Fire : The Collected Lyrics' at $150. You can buy a signed Rushdie--of his rock novel 'Ground Beneath her Feet' for as little as $15. Of this book the 'India Star' critic C. J. S. Wallia wrote '...with its 575 tiresome pages.. it spreads ample new ground beneath his feet to trod while he assails the reader with massive verbiage straining to be comic. In this muddled melodramatic novel, Rushdie comes off as a wannabe Mel Brooks of contemporary literature -- an aspiration he can't achieve for he lacks the wit.' Wallia proposes an exclusive new club for those who have got past 17 of 'Satanic Verses.' He says of Western critics-'...reviewers have, typically, hesitated to criticize Rushdie, ascribing instead their difficulties in understanding his previous works to their unfamiliarity with his Indian settings and contexts...'

The US edition of 'Midnight's Children' actually precedes the London edition- due to a printers strike in the UK the Cape editions were bound from US sheets--however the UK ed is worth more than the American and is harder to find, being issued in a smaller edition. A case of 'Follow the Flag.'

VALUE? The highest record for any Rushdie book is the £1800 paid in 2001 for a limited edition 'Satanic Verses- --one of 12 copies , signed and bound in full morocco leather. This is a book that will rise ineluctably, mostly because of the furore around the book. An interesting inscribed copy of 'Midnight's Children' surfaced in 2003 and made £1000. The cataloguer notes that Rushdie had worked as a freelance copywriter for the advertising agency Charles Barker; one of the accounts that he handled was that of the financial service group M&G, in the course of which he got to know a Roger Jennings who was working for the company. Rushdie would often discuss Midnight's Children (which he was then writing) with Jennings, and promised him an inscribed copy, once it was published.

The highest auction record for 'Midnight's Children' is £1100 inc premium paid in 2004 for a (presumably fine/fine) copy signed by the author on the title page. This year at Bonham's L.A. a signed copy in near fine jacket made $1440. In the short term the prices of his books have been falling off slightly or , at best, they seem to be bumping along with a lot of auction lots being 'bought in' - indicating over-enthusiastic sellers and apathetic, indifferent buyers. However it is likely that this and his more difficult books will rise in value. Possibly something to do with India becoming richer, his large and enthusiastic 'chattering class' fanbase and the great fame and notoriety (see left) of Salman himself and finally the difficult of finding limpid copies. SEE COMMENTS BELOW - palpable signs of a bull market in the book.

It is possible that he will get a Nobel prize to add to his knighthood. Nobel Prizes, like movies, are always supposed to turbo-charge prices but it seldom happens. When the great playwright, poet and politico Harold Pinter won the Nobel we sold a few signed editions that had been kicking around for years - but so far it has done little for Doris Lessing values. Outlook? Good, if you can wait.
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