Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Thoughts on The Enchantress of Florence

To my mind, a good writer immerses themselves in their subject matter.  For some writers, that entails doing an incredible amount of research.  For others, it means getting inside the head of their characters.  Sometimes, it's both.  Such is the case with Salman Rushdie.

His Satanic Verses became one of the most infamous books of the 20th century when it sparked death threats in the Muslim world, even though the story deals mostly with Indian culture.  It was one of the most imaginative books I'd ever read.  Naturally I had to include Rushdie in my future literary adventures.

When I got around to reading The Enchantress of Florence, I had no idea if Rushdie was a one-trick pony.  That's always a possibility after all, and it's not like the book world goes out of its way to celebrate itself the way music, movies, and TV does, at least not as publicly.  It's incredibly insular (as is poetry, only moreso).  I suppose I shouldn't have been so concerned.  I mean, he wrote The Satanic Verses.

Enchantress of Florence is a period piece (Satanic Verses takes place in the present, except for those parts that inflamed Muslims), set during the earliest years of the New World, and features several notable historical figures, including Akbar the Great, Amerigo Vespucci, and Niccolo Machiavelli (I for one was apparently hugely ignorant about Machiavelli's life outside of writing The Prince), all revolving around a trickster who in the end is revealed to have faded into his own story.  This is just one of the many mirrors to be found in the plot, which reflects on itself and on the present without ever referencing it.

Rushdie, as I suggested, did an incredible amount of research for the book, but he spends a lot of time meditating in it, allowing the characters ample time to reflect.  He is a cerebral writer with a labyrinthine plot in mind.  Too many writers only look at the surface of their stories, and it's the narrative that is supposed to amuse their readers, and many readers believe that this constitutes good writing, and in fact most advice you'll find for writers is to "show, not tell," when in fact a brilliant writer can show through telling more accurately than any minute description of scenery and details.  I mean, there's a reason why most art does not evoke a direct representation of reality.

Anyway, that's not really talking about Enchantress of Florence.  But the best I can say is to recommend reading it for yourself.  You may discover more than a set of facts.

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