Sam's Reviews > Enchantments

Enchantments by Kathryn Harrison
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Apr 13, 12

Read in April, 2012

Set in Russia during the 1917 Revolution, Enchantments is narrated by Masha, daughter of the infamous 'mad monk' Rasputin. After her father is murdered by those suspicious of his links with the Tsarina and her son Aloysha, Masha and her sister are taken under the protection of the Tsar. But as the Revolution continues and the royal family are put under house arrest, it becomes clear that Masha and the Romanovs are in grave danger. For Masha and Alyosha, their growing friendship becomes a way of escaping the present and Masha becomes a kind of Scheherazade, telling fantastical stories of their past, present and future.

I studied the Russian revolution as part of my GCSE in history and ever since I've been fascinated with Russian history. Of all the characters in Russian history, Rasputin is one of the most interesting - an unwashed, illiterate peasant who claims to see the future, seduces lots of women and manages to earn the trust of the Tsarina. He was famously hard to kill, being poisoned, shot and bludgeoned on the head with an axe before finally being drowned. Reading Enchantments, I was very impressed at how Harrison dealt with his character as she managed to keep the curtain of myth and romance around him. Rasputin was shadowy throughout the book and hard to pin down, a charismatic figure shrouded in mystery, just how he should be.

I was also impressed with how Harrison dealt with Alyosha's illness, hemophilia. Although I logically knew that hemophilia means the inability of the blood to clot, I never realised how horrific this illness was until I read Enchantments. Harrison gives a detailed account of how the illness has effected Alyosha's life and that of his family and you can't help but feel sorry for him. The interactions between Masha and Alyosha are quite touching.

So there was lots to like about Enchantments but unfortunately the book was let down by a pacing issue. It's made clear very early in the book what is going to happen at the end (although to be fair, anyone at all familiar with the history would know the ending already) so there was no tension throughout. Masha's storytelling is whimsical and out of chronological order, meaning that the different chapters jump back and forward in time pretty randomly. This meant that for me, the book felt a bit meandering and long-winded without tension and pace to drive it forwards.
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