The Voice of a Magical Realist Novelist

The voice of a magical realist novel has a distinctive role to play because through it the novelist tries to point out some inner realizations to the reader. In its successful delivery to the reader is contained a crystallization of the intuitive discoveries that are not easy to communicate. Often the novelist chooses to tell everything in the first person singular, himself. But sometimes a character becomes the teller of the tale. In case that happens, the character who narrates the tale becomes a mask for the novelist who says everything through another’s mouth. Saleem Sinai is one such character. He becomes Salman Rushdie’s voice to talk of his response to the the time when India becomes independent and what was for him a homeland becomes divided into two nations, each carrying a part of him. The real is never absent from a magical realist novel. Only a window opens up, as it were, to present the real with an alternative view; the reality as it is intuitively perceived.

How is the voice of a magic realist novel different from that of another novel? Through magical perceptions of the world, an author changes the way he looks upon things. He takes his inner, personal and intuitive perceptions as more real than his outward or rational perceptions. In such a novel, an author tells a story rationally to a point but then allows extra-rational considerations to get in the way of his or her narration. It is different that they take the extra-rational intrusions in his or her stride and don’t seem to get disturbed by them as another novelist would if they were suddenly gripped by the desire to tell things through an agency that the world doesn’t believe in. Gabriel García Márquez cleverly gives to the reader a vision of garbled or distorted time as that is what his inner self needs to do to describe people’s desires to oppress and colonize. Those that travel into Macondo, from other geographical regions, lead to its gradual decline. Márquez makes a synchronic structure of time and history, as it were, and presents it not historically but as if he was looking through time. What we normally perceive rationally can seem limited or incomplete to a magical realist novelist, because they may not look upon time just on its surface but in its multiple layers, and hence they may handle fictional time differently. For when time is jumbled up, fair can be foul and foul can be fair in the same moment. The witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth can see fair in foul and foul in fair because they are extra-rational creatures who have decided to jumble up time in the lives of the Macbeths and once you disturb rational, historical, and sequential time, you need an inner, intuitive, or magical eye to see things in perspective. The reader too needs a more than rational perception of things to be able to see this along with the author. It’s just another view to the real world that the narrator voices.

The voice of the narrator is so constructed by the novelist that for the reader, the real and the magical can co-exist without disturbing each other. The magical is just one aspect that is visualized along with the many realistic aspects available in the narrative. A curse, for instance, may have little meaning for urban people. But it may suddenly acquire relevance when seen through the lens of folklore or rustic perception. When I wrote The Tailor’s Needle I suggested that Maneka’s life was ruined by a curse. This was a magical perception of her life. But the reality was that Maneka had done everything to get ruined because of her karmic actions. So what was happening in the real world of her life was shown from a different angle by making it seem to result from a curse. The curse was a more visible form of the working out of her fate that she built with her actions. The voice of such a novel needs to maintain the balance between what is real and what is magical. Melquíades, in One Hundred Years of Solitude holds such a balance as does Saleem Sinai in Midnight’s Children.

In more ancient times, an author such as Sophocles could see Oedipus’s suffering as a result of his mistakes, maybe unconscious ones. In those times the magical and the real were linked more closely to each other than they are today. Science and our preference for rationalism have tended to suppress the magical voice in us. Magical Realism urges us to awaken that suppresed voice.

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