Friday, 13 April 2012
Enchantments by Kathryn Harrison
I studied the Russian revolution as part of my GCSE in history and ever since I've been fascinated with Russian history. Of all the characters in Russian history, Rasputin is one of the most interesting - an unwashed, illiterate peasant who claims to see the future, seduces lots of women and manages to earn the trust of the Tsarina. He was famously hard to kill, being poisoned, shot and bludgeoned on the head with an axe before finally being drowned. Reading Enchantments, I was very impressed at how Harrison dealt with his character as she managed to keep the curtain of myth and romance around him. Rasputin was shadowy throughout the book and hard to pin down, a charismatic figure shrouded in mystery, just how he should be.
I was also impressed with how Harrison dealt with Alyosha's illness, hemophilia. Although I logically knew that hemophilia means the inability of the blood to clot, I never realised how horrific this illness was until I read Enchantments. Harrison gives a detailed account of how the illness has effected Alyosha's life and that of his family and you can't help but feel sorry for him. The interactions between Masha and Alyosha are quite touching.
So there was lots to like about Enchantments but unfortunately the book was let down by a pacing issue. It's made clear very early in the book what is going to happen at the end (although to be fair, anyone at all familiar with the history would know the ending already) so there was no tension throughout. Masha's storytelling is whimsical and out of chronological order, meaning that the different chapters jump back and forward in time pretty randomly. This meant that for me, the book felt a bit meandering and long-winded without tension and pace to drive it forwards.
Verdict: A good read if you are interested in Russian history or the Romanovs, but not the first Russian historical fiction book I would recommend.
Source: From the publisher, via Netgalley
Score: 3 out of 5
1. The Winter Palace by Eva Stachnaik - Another historical fiction novel set in Russia, this time about Catherine the Great. Beautiful descriptions of Russia itself in this one.
2. A Mountain of Crumbs by Elena Gorokhova - Another account of growing up after the Revolution, this time a memoir from an ordinary girl.
3. Young Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore - I read this pre-blogging and it's an excellent history of the man who would grow up to be the dictator. I would also recommend the sequel Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar.