Reminiscent of John Updike’s Rabbit at Rest—the final volume of his Rabbit quartet—there’s a mighty, resounding thwack of satisfaction for the reader at the conclusion of Tariq Ali’s ambitious Night of the Golden Butterfly. Both books conclude with a sense of finality mingled with loss—the death of a larger-than-life leading character has just happened—yet something adheres.
For Ali winds up his audacious, prize-winning, epic Islam Quintet by rounding up his key players for a finale marked by a wonderfully worked set piece (the unveiling of a major, totemic painting, the culmination of a life’s work), leaving the reader in little doubt that the manifold foibles and achievements of this colourful cast of players will continue into the ether. This is a book I will read again.
Its narrator, Dara, in that scene, in contemplation of an amusing erotic image of Jindie, his first love, surveys with pleasure one of her breasts depicted suggestively on the canvas, something, he notes, that in real life he has yet to see, a harbinger clearly of sexual conquests in the offing. Jindie’s husband and brother stare; they are embarrassed.
The painter, Plato, the eldest of the coterie of old friends who have gathered to marvel, somewhat like Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom in Updike’s novels, hovers above it all—as does Ali, engaged, yet detached, his satirical distance denying any possibility of nostalgic sentimentality. “It was over,” barks the novel’s final sentence. The nail in the coffin. read more