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The Last Enchantments: A Novel Hardcover – January 28, 2014
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Lauded young mystery writer Finch captures the American perspective on aristocratic Oxford in this coming-of-age novel. William Baker leaves the political world of New York City behind, along with a well-connected girlfriend, Alison, to spend a year studying English literature at Fleet, a fictional Oxford college. He boards in a small cottage on campus with other graduate students, who introduce him to life as an English uni student. Tom Raleigh, William’s pedigreed Tory housemate, indoctrinates him into centuries-old traditions at Oxford, such as formal dinners and ritualized drinking games. Then he meets Sophie, a smart and proper Englishwoman, and begins to drift away from his well-heeled college sweetheart, Alison, and toward the romantic, literary life of Oxford. As in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, Oxford sets a regal and stunning backdrop to The Last Enchantments, giving it a timeless and rich ambience that is, well, enchanting. --Heather Paulson
“This lovely novel invites the very kind of enchanted immersion that its protagonist experiences at Oxford. . . . Beautifully done.” ―Ann Packer, James Michener Award-winner and bestselling author of The Dive from Clausen's Pier
“Compelling. . . . William Baker's voice, vividly established in the opening line, is the most striking of this novel's many virtues.” ―Ron Rash, New York Times bestselling author of Serena
“Finch achieves that rarest of tributes to Oxford University, fond but still clear-sighted. . . . The heart of The Last Enchantments is his Bright Young Things--too young for their own good, let loose upon the medieval city of sherry-sodden intellectuality and rain-soaked romantic debacle, bright about everything except love and life. A witty, touching coming-of-age tale in a town that never ages.” ―Wilton Barnhardt, author of Lookaway, Lookaway
“Irresistible . . . The novel bursts with intelligence and wit as Charles Finch brilliantly examines our most secret longings and desires. . . . The Last Enchantments casts an enduring spell. ” ―Amber Dermont, author of The Starboard Sea
“A witty, wonderful book about that tender age between college and true adulthood. Charles Finch's sensitive, lyrical and heartfelt writing charms to the very last page.” ―Cristina Alger, author of The Darlings
“Intense, fast-paced, psychologically intriguing, and wonderfully written, Will finds not only Sophie, the complicated, captivating woman who takes his heart and an unsettling group of friends, but over the course of a disturbing and entertaining year, he finds himself in surprising ways.” ―Susan Richards Shreve, author of You Are the Love of my Life
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WHAT I LIKED: Mr. Finch does a good job of describing the demographic my son experienced during his year at St. Andrews in Scotland. Finch's descriptions of Oxford catch the essence of the place. As expected from his work on the Lenox series, he can turn a phrase with the best of them.
WHAT I DISLIKED: Mr. Finch's excellent description of reckless youth bored me to tears. (In fairness, I should note that reckless youth bore me to tears.) I read fiction for enjoyment and to watch the characters develop, not be reminded of unbridled entitlement on a generational scale. Profanity offends me unless it is used with discretion and for a purpose. Gratuitous sex has its place, but that place is not in the books I read. I have always enjoyed Finch's vocabulary, which he uses with surgical precision in the Lenox series. However, his word usage in The Last Enchantments seemed incongruous and pompous in the contemporary setting. His verbal strength in the Lenox series is a weakness in The Last Enchantments.
DISCLAIMER: I know that publishers and agents encourage authors to branch out after writing several books in a series. I hope that Mr. Finch's foray into puerile literature is a result of just such a strategic career move. However, I believe that for readers of his Lenox series, the move was a gross misstep.
I do look forward to Home By Nightfall, the Lenox book I believe is releasing later this year.
Second, the vocabulary in this book was astonishing. Many words with which I am unfamiliar appeared. I enjoyed this, but it leads to another reservation about the book.
Third, the evocation of Oxford struck me as ringing true. The approach avoidance aspect of the relationship between ex-pats and the school seemed authentic. It reminded me of what someone once told me--that spending four years studying at Oxford thoroughly cured him of his anglophilia.
Fourth, I did finish the book instead of bogging down in it half way through. At least I liked it that much.
Now, on to the reservations.
The first one is that this book manifests what, as an elderly person, I bemoan as one of the problems of the generation coming of age in the 2000s. The main protagonist, Will, who is both wealthy and self-indulgent, at 25 is going through the process of maturing that he should have completed by the time he was graduated from college. His wealth protected him from reality, and he seeks to remain in the cocoon that it allowed him. Like many who are his age in our era, instead of using college as an opportunity to grow up, he skipped that part of his education and now retreats to Oxford to behave like the undergraduate he once was.
Second, the vocabulary, while appealing, ended up being irritating. For one thing, Will uses words as an Englishman would use them, not as an American, even when he first arrives at Oxford. Given the precise diction in the book, I would have expected a gradual infiltration of English vocabulary, not the full use that appeared at the start. Moreover, he was only in England for a year, and is now (ostensibly) back in the United States. He voice is not the voice of an American, though.
Third, Will ended up sounding pretentious, self-absorbed, and shallow. I can accept that in an undergraduate, but he is supposed to be 25. The coming of age process that appeared in teenagers in books like A Separate Peace loses its interest and appeal when it appears in someone who is 25.
In the end, the book underlined the correctness of my decision many years ago to drop my plans for an academic career in English. Listening to students talk the way they talk in this novel, in the rare moments when academia becomes its subject, would have driven me out of my mind. What nonsense they do spout!