The Last Enchantments, by Charles Finch was a very exciting book for me to read because of the way it contained seemingly opposite classifications. As a reader, I enjoyed my time with the book in my hand, stayed up too late trying to find out what would happen to the characters, and thought about the book for long periods of time after I’d put it down. These are all good things. However, as a writer and someone who has studied literature I found the book even more interesting in its ability to be both old fashioned and contemporary, both about adulthood and a coming of age story, and both endearing and disapproving. A short version of the summary is to say that twenty-five year old, Will decides to take a year off from his political job and “new money” fiancee to study literature at Oxford. He gets up to all kinds of shenanigans with a diverse group of new friends. He still feels longing for his life back home, but also enjoys the freedom and vitality of his academic lifestyle and his casual hookups. Of course, there is one girl who stands out from the rest. Sophie. Much of the book centers around whether he will build a new life with her as an academic or move back to New York where his fiancee and the life he’s planned for continues to be on hold for him.
As I wrote above, the book seemed particularly successful in it’s ability to be two things at once. Parts of Will’s narrative and his self conception feel incredibly old-fashioned. He puts great importance in his patrician lineage and his education at prep schools then Yale. The term “new money” is used unironically. There are comments made about things like furniture matching that seem like they belong more to Maggie Smith’s character in Downton Abbey than a twenty-five year old man in 2005. At the same time, it is a very contemporary story. In some ways it makes me very hopeful for New Adult literature. It hinges upon the relatively new idea of emerging adulthood. Hook up culture, the Iraq War, contemporary politics, and gender/race identity all play an important part in the story.
Sometimes in creative writing classes, I’ve been warned against making my story about too many things at once. I liked how this book was about more than just one thing. It celebrates the worshiping of books and the importance of politics. The characters have multiple interests and facets, but the book shows how easily people can view each other as one dimensional. I liked Will and related to him, but I also found the way he treated women disgusting.
There are a lot of reasons that this was the exact right time in my life to read this book. I’m heading back to school in the fall. I’m only a little older than the protagonist. I remember studying abroad in the UK with both fondness and nostalgia. Still, I think the main reason I liked it is that I cared about the characters and what happened to them and enjoyed the lyrical writing. I highly recommend it, especially to anyone who has spent time in Great Britain.
*** Full disclosure: I got this book through a giveaway on Charles Finch’s Facebook page.