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The Last Enchantments

The Last Enchantments - Charles Finch I got the audio version of this book from First Reads and listened to the whole thing in one weekend of house chores and grading. Maybe you're supposed to spread it out more...

The language in this book is beautiful, and the author clearly loves Oxford and the time he spent there -- I get the impression that there's a lot of himself in this. And he's a good writer. There are excerpt-able sentences here and there, and statements about the nature of life worth thinking about. The whole thing feels very thoughtful and nostalgic. If you read it for the snippets of philosophy and literary-level thinking, it's really very enjoyable.

But I just can't get past the fact that I really don't like the main character, Will. His best friend Tom is rather unlikeable, too, but Tom actually undergoes change in the course of the book. He is affected deeply by tragedy and then, in recovery and grief, sets out to change, improve himself. Will, on the other hand, can't seem to be bothered to care about anything other than himself and his obsession with Sophie, and doesn't change or grow in any way over the course of the novel. I found myself getting impatient with him.

Grad school is simply an escape for Will. He didn't bother to mention what he was even studying until he was halfway through the book (yep, I'm a nerd and I consider this omission strange). He doesn't go far beyond the "drinking and hanging out and hooking up are fun" level of the Oxford experience. He's using Oxford as an excuse not to grow up, I suppose. Beautiful language. Little substance.

Early in the book, describing how he cheated on his girlfriend a mere 2 days after arriving at Oxford, Will asks the reader directly, "have I lost your sympathy"? Why yes, he had. And he never changed or self-reflected enough to get it back. He could have earned my sympathy again by caring about anything or anyone in a convincing way, but he never did. Still, there are other characters in the novel that I actually liked, and they saved the story for me.

I should also mention that all the accents made the audiobook reading quite entertaining. I did enjoy it.