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The Salman Rushdie novella inspired by Jean-Luc Godard

“Early last year, at the height of the ‘first wave’ of the coronavirus pandemic,” writes Rushdie in a 2021 entry of his newsletter ‘Salman’s Sea of Stories’, “I began a long story called The Seventh Wave that was in part a way of confronting the catastrophe, but also a homage to the films that inspired me when I was young...

salman rushdie godardThe connection between Rushdie and Godard (Source: AP/Reuters)

“Early last year, at the height of the ‘first wave’ of the coronavirus pandemic,” writes Salman Rushdie in a September 2021 entry of his newsletter ‘Salman’s Sea of Stories’, “I began a long story called The Seventh Wave that was in part a way of confronting the catastrophe, but also a homage to the films that inspired me when I was young and in particular to two masters of the French Nouvelle Vague or New Wave, Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut.”

Rushdie quotes Godard twice in his newsletter — “A story should have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order,” and “Cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world,” before he goes into The Seventh Wave, a tale inspired by the romances of Godard and Truffaut with their respective actress-muse-lovers, Anna Karina and Jeanne Moreau. The story is an imagined relationship between a film director called Francis and his actress-lover Anna.
Though it has not received nearly the same fanfare as is usual for any of his new work, the Seventh Wave is a 51-episode novella that Rushdie has been serialising weekly on his newsletter since September last year, with its 48th episode released five days before he was stabbed in New York on August 12.

Almost a month later, on September 13, Godard, one of the most influential French filmmakers of all times and the master of French New Wave cinema, passed away at the age of 91. The filmmaker-critic was responsible for popularising that rebellious new form of cinema in the 1960s that was a reaction to the storytelling conventions in films of the time. First a noted film critic, Godard shot to fame with his first film, Breathless (1960) and married his frequent collaborator, the avant garde French actor Anna Karina, in 1961. The couple divorced four years later.

That Rushdie loves cinema is no secret. The (twice) Booker-winning author, who was recently attacked before a speech in New York and is in recovery, grew up in Bombay, the “world’s number-one movie city”, as he terms it in a 1990 tribute to Satyajit Ray in London Review of Books. In the manuscript of his timeless classic Midnight’s Children (1981), the word “film” is mentioned 62 times, the word “cinema” 26 times and “movie” 11 times. The novel itself borrows from Rushdie’s own upbringing in the tinsel town as it follows the rambunctious midnight-child Saleem Sinai, who, as it turns out, is also a cinephile, going to the movies “as often as [he] could” during Ramzan.

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Salman Rushdie’s wrote that he was inspired by two masters of the French Nouvelle Vague or New Wave, Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut (Source: Substack.com)

In The Seventh Wave, Rushdie deploys several cinematic devices, particularly those of the French New Wave, a practice he adopted since the time of Midnight’s Children, which is peppered with film vocabulary like “long-shot” and “cut to” prefixing many panoramic paragraphs. The novella also picks up narrative techniques from the movement such as emphasising the fictionality of the story being told and referencing other films and works of art.So if you want to experience the literary tenor of the iconoclastic wave of cinema that has lost its first rebel, give The Seventh Wave a read. And pray for its author’s quick recovery so you get the finale soon.

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First published on: 14-09-2022 at 08:00 IST
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