The Ground Beneath Her Feet

The Ground Beneath Her Feet is Salman Rushdie's sixth novel. Published in 1999, it is a variation on the Orpheus/Eurydice myth, with rock music replacing Orpheus's lyre. The myth works as a red thread from which the author sometimes strays, but to which he attaches an endless series of references.

The Ground Beneath Her Feet
First edition (UK)
AuthorSalman Rushdie
CountryUnited Kingdom
PublishedApril 1999
Jonathan Cape (UK)
Henry Holt & Company (US)
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
Pages592 pp
823/.914 21
LC ClassPR6068.U757 G76 1999

The book, while at its core detailing the love of two men, Ormus Cama and Umeed "Rai" Merchant (the narrator of the story), for the same woman, Vina Apsara, provides a background and alternate history to the entire 1950s–1990s period of the growth of rock music. Defined by Toni Morrison as "a global novel", the book sets itself in the wide frame of Western and post-colonial culture, through the multilingualism of its characters, the mixture of East and West and the great number of references that span from Greek mythology, European philosophy and contemporaries such as Milan Kundera and the stars of rock'n roll.

The title is taken from a song in the novel, composed by Ormus Cama after Vina's death. The lyrics to the song, with minor changes, were adapted and recorded by U2. The song was used in the 2000 film The Million Dollar Hotel, and the promotional music video featured Rushdie in a cameo appearance.

  • The character of Ormus Cama may be inspired by John Lennon and Elvis Presley. While Lennon appears in the book as a separate character, several of Ormus' traits (especially his love of making bread at home) seems to be inspired from him. Ormus' death – immediately outside his apartment building, shot at close range with a small pistol – is also very similar to Lennon's. Also, Lennon's last words are said to be "yes", when a police officer asked him if he knew who he was on the way to the hospital. Ormus' last words were "Yes. Yes, mother, I know", when asked the same question. As a kind of bookend, Ormus has a similar birth to that of Elvis, who had a twin brother born dead, and possibly also of Austrian singer/songwriter Falco who was a sole survivor of triplets and began showing enormous musical talent as a toddler. Rushdie also describes Ormus in physical terms that could describe Elvis, particularly the erotic power of his pelvic gyrations. Rushdie also stated that Ormus Cama was loosely based on Freddie Mercury, who was also a famous Parsi rock star.
  • Rushdie re-introduces characters from his previous novels, including Homi Catrack and William Methwold from Midnight's Children (1981), S.S. Sisodia from The Satanic Verses (1988), and Aurora Zogoiby from The Moor's Last Sigh (1995), as well as settings such as Warden Road and Everest Villas.
  • The man introducing Umeed to the agency is M. Hulot, a character that seems to be based on Jacques Tati's character from the movie Les Vacances de M. Hulot.

The novel is set in a parallel universe, as revealed in the second half of the book. Thus, there are several historic events that are altered in the setting of the novel. In the novel, American president John F. Kennedy survives the Dallas assassination but is shot alongside his brother Robert Kennedy later on; the Watergate scandal is represented as a novel starring a fictional president Richard Nixon. Rushdie also deliberately miscredits some classic rock songs, such as The Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction", which he credits to John Lennon, or Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman", which he credits to The Kinks. The character named Jesse Garon Parker represents Elvis Presley in every way, while The Who are presented under their original name The High Numbers. In his description of the contribution of Vina's voice to the duet, he compares that of Guinevere Garfunkel to Carly Simon's Bridge over Troubled Waters, where the names of the singers hint at Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon.

The novel has been turned into a major performance work combining music and film that premiered at the inaugural Manchester International Festival in England on 29 June 2007. Composed by Victoria Borisova-Ollas and featuring a film directed by Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas, Internal Affairs), the tale of two star-crossed lovers was performed by the Hallé orchestra, conducted by its music director Mark Elder and Alan Rickman as the narrator, with Tehmina Sunny in the role of Vina.

See also

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