The Last Enchantments by Charles Finch. Given the title and the name of the author I thought “Oh! Another Victorian mystery, but set in Oxford!” As in the gentlemen detective Charles Lennox in 7 erudite mysteries, with the 8th to be published this year The Laws of Murder. This book, however, is contemporary literary fiction, with more than a twist of memoir I suspect. It is also a well written, readable, interesting thought provoking novel. The privileged WASP protagonist is in his mid twenties, somewhat immature, naive and untempered, feeling adrift with the political campaign loss. He decides to take a hiatus/sabbatical (i.e graduate studies in literature) at Oxford. It is an older coming of age story, concerning a contemporary generation and gender I am somewhat removed from. I thought Will was a cad with unusual remarkable American charm, but still a bounder. That you like him and sympathize with his interior life is due primarily to excellent writing, clever plotting and intriguing host of characters which are integral to the story. Certainly an interesting perspective of the younger generation, with literary twists. The atmosphere is spot on, with wonderful descriptions of British academia and Oxford. The title is a relevant, haunting Mathew Arnold quote from his Essays in Criticism (1865): “Oxford whispering from her towers the last enchantments of the Middle Age . . . Home of lost causes, and forsaken beliefs, and unpopular names, and impossible loyalties!”
Thoughts of this book lingered over several discussions concerning the themes of this book. Who are the speech writers of campaigns, how young is idealism, what differences in American and British universities, cultural differences in generation and privilege (the phrase American pet irks), noting marriage is no longer the next step on graduating (either high school or college), men’s behaviour vs women’s, teenage to adult angst – while I am also hunting for the greater good and personal responsibility. I understand a sense of greater freedom, perhaps more potential, but those aren’t irrevocably lost by aging.
“When you’re finally grown-up, one of the things you find is that there are no grown-ups.”
You will like this if you are a reader (great literary references), an English major (including former degrees!), an expat, anyone who loves the magic of Oxford (as the town plays a central character) or an academic (without having to experience office politics). I am ready to go back to his Victorian era any time too.