Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Marco Roth of n+1, the intriguing hipster literary journal (not to be confused with their hated archrival McSweeneys) whose intellectual perspective, has, according to their website, singlehandedly saved (shame on them), Jonathan Franzen from existential despair, has reviewed Salman Rushdie’s new novel, The Enchantress of Florence.

He gave it a good review, though he takes Rushdie to task for indulging his ego through his characters.

The hyper-prolific and much-hated (but not by me, again I haven’t read her) Joyce Carol Oates also reviewed the novel (with lots of quotes) in the New York Review of Books. Funnily enough, she had more or less the same judgment as Roth.

Both commented on the fantastic unreality of the novel.

She writes: Though The Enchantress of Florence includes a densely printed five-page bibliography of historical books and articles and is being described as a “historical” novel, readers in expectation of a conventional “historical novel” should be forewarned: this is “history” jubilantly mixed with postmodernist magic realism. The veteran performer-author is too playful and too much the exuberant stylist to incorporate much of deadpan “reality” into his ever-shifting, ever-teasing narrative of the power of enchantment of cultural opposites: “We are their dream…and they are ours.”

Roth points out: There are pirates, shipwrecks, hidden princesses, lost heirs, and magic mirrors. There are giants, epic battles, and potions that “facilitate one hundred consecutive ejaculations.”

I don’t know about you, but this sounds pretty good to me.

I have only read one other (should I be ashamed to point out all the stuff I haven’t read?) Rushdie novel: Midnight’s Children. It was a while ago now, but the book stayed with me and I remember it as one of the best I have ever read; it was a whirling tableau of charm and color and I was deeply engrossed. Rushdie’s ego aside (Who cares unless it ruins the book? And if it does, why don’t they say so explicitly?), I am looking forward to this one. After getting dumped by that hot wife (it couldn’t have ended any other way), I suspect that he’s turned his anguish into art.

Update July 23: I’ve read the book now and it is almost exactly as described above. Two things:

It takes a while before you actually become engrossed. There’s a lot of light and flash here and Rushdie can sustain it for a long time without actually creating a meaningful character. Eventually he does, and in the meantime, the light and flash entertains.

This book is a great beach read. Not too deep, transportive but not ponderous. Recommend it for that purpose. It is not, however, another Midnight’s Children.