Monday, June 15, 2015

A year abroad, among the beautiful people

The Last Enchantments
by Charles Finch

Did Donna Tartt's Secret History fill you with a secret yearning to study Classics with the trust-fund crowd at some leafy liberal arts college? Did you find Whit Stillman's callow Manhattanites inexplicably appealing as they partied languorously through Christmas break in Metropolitan? If so, The Last Enchantments will leave you positively homesick for Oxford.

Finch's latest novel, his first not starring Victorian detective Charles Lenox, follows 25-year-old Will Baker to Oxford. It is 2005, with the US firmly mired in Iraq and Bush still president. Baker, scion of an old-money New England family quits his job as a Democratic operative, abandons his wealthy and well-connected longtime girlfriend, and heads to England to pursue a Master's in English literature.

The story is slight: Baker falls in and out love, studies, parties, graduates, and agonizes ad nauseam over whether to stay at Oxford, work in international finance or return to politics in time for the 2006 midterms. The characters are well-drawn, memorable and eminently believable: Tom, t; Anil, the sweet gangsta rapper from India;  Oxford, the city and its colleges, is a character in itself. Finch studied there, and his lush, loving descriptions of the place, its people and peculiar customs will leave you half-convinced you actually lived there.

The characters are loathsome and charming in that way unique to the hereditary rich.

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Review by Don Beistle

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