I started reading The Enchantress of Florence simply because I try not to miss a Salman Rushdie book. Ever since I read his Ground Beneath Her Feet and then Shalimaar The Clown I am no longer a big fan of his writing. He is a marvellous writer, no doubt, but he is too obsessed with a particular writing style.
The central character of almost all of his novels is semi-magical. Surrealistic things keep on taking place around him or her, and predictably, the same thing happens in The Enchantress of Florence. He has a great writhing style without doubt and among the contemporaries he is my favourite writer (although I haven’t read many contemporary writers). But a great writing style doesn’t mean you have a good story at hand. Most of his time is spent trying to establish how devine his characters are, whether it’s Niccolo Vespucci or Angelica (The Enchantress of Florence). Page after page is covered on how devinely beautiful Angelica is and how different segments of the population of Florence are affected by her beauty; in fact so much that at a particular point you feel that the story isn’t going to move forward. But it does eventually, and by the time it does, you are at the last page of the novel.
Among the contemporaries he’s perhaps the best, but somehow he has gotten himself trapped in the surrealism loop — the main protagonists and antagonists have to have some strange, inexplicable powers: they can appear or disappear like ghosts, they can perform tricks that don’t fall under the realm of the natural world, good things or bad things happen to people who do good things or bad things to them, etc. It means you cannot deal with plots unless they have esoteric, preternatural characters. I’m not saying such writing doesn’t have its own intrinsic charm, but after a while it becomes a bit of a drag.
As a reading experience it is a good book, obviously, coming from Salman Rushdie, but in the end you don’t feel satisfied. At first I thought maybe before reading this book I had read War And Peace by Leo Tolstoy so my expectation was perhaps higher, but I know that even if I hadn’t experienced Tolstoy before reading The enchantress of florence, I wouldn’t have appreciated the book that much.
I wouldn’t say don’t read the book, but if you skip it, you aren’t missing much. Right now I’m reading The Great Gatsby, and I can already feel the difference.