Jon's Reviews > The Enchantress Of Florence

The Enchantress Of Florence by Salman Rushdie
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's review
Feb 11, 2009

really liked it

What a wonderful book. A vast series of Arabian Nights tales, all linked, but with tantalizingly fluid chronology and meaning, with some rock-hard realistic sections in the Florence of the Medicis, although now that I think of it, those had plenty of enchantment too. The book is divided into a number of chapters, each titled on a separate initial page by its first few words. Some of them: "In the day's last light the glowing lake" "At dawn the haunting sandstone palaces" "And here again with bright silks flying" "Everything he loved was on his doorstep" "By the Caspian Sea the old potato witches". How can anybody not keep reading with titles like these? The reason I only gave the book four stars was that I thought the narrative sagged in the middle--ambiguity became so overwhelming (everything is true, nothing is true, what is truth but an artful lie?) that I couldn't find a single place firm enough to put a foot. I floundered and began to suspect that the whole thing would end in nothing but metafictional ironic playfulness. But it didn't. A severe problem in chronology, which Rushdie played with throughout, eventually became resolved in the last pages, and most of my questions were answered with a very welcome sense of finality. There is a wonderfully enigmatic character self-named "the Mughal of Love," and Rushdie wrings every possible meaning out of that phrase, pretty much as A.S.Byatt did with the word "Possession" in that book. This is my first attempt at Rushdie. His masterpiece is apparently Midnight's Children. I'm very much looking forward to that one.
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07/15/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Nikki (new)

Nikki I too have never read Rushdie, this sounds like a good place to start. However I just borrowed a bunch of Terry Pratchett books from my sister-outlaw, plus the audios of Wee Free Men and A Hat Full of Sky, so you can guess that Rushdie may be waiting a while yet. Three of his books made the Guardian "1000 Novels Everyone Must Read" list -- Midnight's Children, Satanic Verses and Shame.

message 2: by Ed (new)

Ed Wow, with your blessing I am prepared to give Rushdie the benefit of the doubt...

Your comment about the ambiguity (lack?) of meaning in a sagging middle section brings to mind the reason I hated The Satanic was long, sometimes good sometimes tiresome but always basically enchanting (a good word) until the very end, when the narrative comes not exactly to a question mark...hmm, it's more 'gotcha' than that, how to describe it? Basically it's Rushdie giving you the finger at the end of an arduous journey throughout which you've been grasping at straws of meaning and religious interpretation, by more or less saying with a wink, 'guess what? None of it meant anything! Neither do I and neither do you! Ha ha!' How dumb.

To think that book was worth a fatwah...that's the funniest part I guess. If nothing means anything, then I s'pose he's saying the Words and Deeds of the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) don't either...go get 'em, Talib.

Even after that I came crawling back and read Midnight's Children, and was underwhelmed.

I write this NOT to discourage you from reading either book! In fact, I want more than anything for you to find something of value that I missed! Good luck! I'm gonna try this Florence one when I get around to it.

Elizabeth Dad said much more eloquently than I did the gems to be found in this one. I had read Haroun's something or other, and also found it somewhat rambling. Perhaps its the foundation dad and I have in early modern European history that helps provide some firmament with this one, so we don't always feel we're "grasping at straws." Much recommended!

message 4: by Chris (new)

Chris Ed wrote: "Wow, with your blessing I am prepared to give Rushdie the benefit of the doubt...

Your comment about the ambiguity (lack?) of meaning in a sagging middle section brings to mind the reason I hated ..."

Whoa there fella, don't give old Khomeini too much credit, i doubt he even read the whole book. Sounds like you've been playing your Cat Stevens records too loud!

But seriously, i thought that Satanic Verses was really rewarding, and that the end in particular was very emotionally cathartic. I didn't take Rushdie to suggest that life is devoid of meaning--i think i saw a connection between the "myths" that he recounted and the way in which the characters create their own identities. It's a process of interpretation, selective remembering and forgetting, and of course dealing with the shattering events that can't be ignored.

But i will admit that some parts of Verses were more puzzling than others. I'm really looking forward to reading Midnight's Children (some day,) particularly because of my interest in South Asian history.

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