‘Concerning the Bodyguard’ by Donald Barthelme

Imagine a story told almost entirely as a series of questions. Here is one such story in which we learn, indirectly, about a bodyguard’s life and the life of his employer, “the principal”. Plot is subtly interwoven into this story. Salman Rushdie was the writer from whom I first heard of this story when he read it for The New Yorker podcast. Years earlier, in the 1990s, one of my first jobs after leaving university was with Penguin Books, publishers of many authors including, as it happens, Eric Carle, Donald Barthelme and Salman Rushdie. While I never met Carle or Barthelme, I did occasionally see Salman Rushdie. This was at the time when Rushdie lived under the death threats of his fatwa. Rushdie had to have bodyguards and there was extra security at our offices which made Rushdie’s reading of the story particularly poignant.

First published in The New Yorker, October 1978, and available to read online there. Collected in Forty Stories, Putnam, 1987, and by Penguin, 1989. Hear Salman Rushdie read it online here

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