The Enchantress of Florence

This was my first Rushdie, and do I regret my decision to read it before Midnight’s Children or Shalimar the Clown, because I don’t think it’s one of his “typical’ novels – if ever a work by Rushdie could be described as typical. From what I’ve heard, he appears to be one of those writers whose works are amorphous and ever-changing.

Neverthless, I expected something different from him. While this book wasn’t complete frivolous fluff, it just wasn’t composed of the complex, riveting, thought-provoking stuff that I imagined would characterise all his novels. Even the prose was rather lacking – images such as “sea of molten gold”, “in the dark of the dungeon his chains weighed on him like his unfinished story” seemed more cliche than anything.

In fact, nothing about this novel denoted subtlety.  Blatant philosophical rants and ruminations aside, I was rarely swept away by the story because I never ceased to be conscious of Rushdie manouvering strings behind the scenes. I still enjoyed it immensely, but my one criticism is that Rushdie seemed overly confident in his narration – so much so that it wasn’t as seamless a novel as it could have been.

What I did like was that he interfused elements of traditional storytelling with a refreshingly modern voice. Albeit a modern voice that was peppered – at all times – with a sort of arrogant, contrived wit. Deirdre Donahue explains it best:

Set in both Asia and Italy, the book is neither historical fiction nor effective fantasy. Instead, it’s an ornately written drone-fest designed to show off Rushdie’s undeniable stylistic brilliance

I don’t mean to be flippant (well, actually I do) but the fact remains that Rushdie has established a name for himself, and he can take the liberty of producing a fun, frivolous novel. And despite the usual commentary on life, death and everything in-between, that’s precisely what The Enchantress of Florence was. Fun. And I rather liked that. While his intention to produce a playful novel of wit and repartee resulted in the creation of a … well, a something Not Quite Right (and not at all in an admirable, avant-garde way), I can’t deny that I enjoyed reading this.

Some critics have gone so far as to describe this as Rushdie’s worst novel – a criticism I would perceive as a compliment. Because if this is his worst, I’m definitely interested in reading his other works. Still, I wouldn’t have promised to curry this book and swallow it whole if it didn’t win the Booker. Although this year’s shortlist was bemusing, there are countless novels out there more deserving of the title than Rushdie’s lovechild with frivolity.

To be fair, I’ll take into account the fact that I liked various elements of the book – the imaginary queen Jodha, Akbar’s habit of speaking in first-person plural, the exotic settings – and I’ll describe it as a book of provocative questions and spellbinding stories, both of which made for an immensely good summer read.

» This book was read as a part of my Summer Reading project

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4 thoughts on “The Enchantress of Florence

  1. You’ve described this very well. It’s just good fun, not perfect but quite a yarn just the same. Shalimar the Clown is my favorite of his books—also a good yarn but it felt less manufactured to me. I don’t entirely get the hype around Midnight’s Children. Parts of it are wonderful, but I just couldn’t bring myself to care about anyone in it.

  2. Teresa – I actually don’t know much about Midnight’s Children, but the title alone sounds interesting. And since it was recently awarded the Best of the Bookers, I assumed it was the best of his works. I suppose, though, that all attention-receiving books are overrated to a certain degree.

  3. Hey,
    Well, yeah, this isn’t his best book, and certainly Shalimar the Clown was certainly more enchanting that this one. Actually, I liked the description of Akbar and his court, how it is described as so magnificent and grand, but got kind of lost when he started on the Machiavelli. Then again, maybe it has something to do with me being an Indian and actually been to Sikri and all those places.

    Please, please, please read up Shalimar, I’m sure you will love the Kashmiri setting and everything.

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