Sunday, July 06, 2008

The Enchantress of Florence

I just finished reading this book by Salman Rushdie - it was a recommended read at Amazon, forty percent off, and the description sounded intriguing. For me, it was a very different book. There was a lot about it that I was able to appreciate but didn't like; there were other things I thought were unnecessary, indulgences of a society that glorifies deep thought in its literature at the expense of simplicity and common sense. There were also points I genuinely enjoyed.

Of style - light, lyrical, with some exceptionally long sentences that require the unwary reader to go back and untangle them. In some places, the novel approaches poetry, woven seamlessly into the lines.

In many ways, this book reminded me of another, very different: American Gods by Neil Gaiman, which I commented on some time back. Both approach the world from an unconventional sense of logic. For American Gods, it is a dreaming logic. For The Enchantress of Florence, it is a stream of consciousness logic, an artist's logic, the sympathetic magic where like things are bound together though they have no scientific connection.

At first, I had trouble adjusting to the story. Once I accepted that this wasn't a novel about plot or character, that it was a novel rather about event and imagination, then I found I was able to relax and flow with it ... but I always wanted to be more connected to the characters, somehow, to find a stronger harbor in the seas of philosophy.

At its core, this is a novel about the supreme power of imagination and belief, how fiction can become more important than reality, how tale and teller can be lost in each other. It is a novel that dances casually past real-world events and entertains with its touches of the past. Both the frame story and the nested tales have the feel of history, an invention that is independent of their creators. Who is really in charge, inventor or invention?

Yet it is hard to forget that there is a storyteller involved in this novel, and thus hard to become truly immersed in the world. More often than not, there is the sense that the reader is being explained to, rather than shown. Ironically, for a story about the power of dreams and imagination, this is a novel ruled more by its craft and construction than by its core idea.

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