Enchantress of Florence, by Rushdie, is very enchanting. So enchanting, in fact, that it seems to have blinded people into thinking it's good. (I won't give a synopsis, because if you need one there's hundreds out there, and I'll try not to give spoilers, but any details I do give away aren't huge and wouldn't affect the plot if you want to read it and haven't yet.)
Don't get me wrong--the prose is beautiful, and the story is sweeping in that wonderfully epic way. I adored all the historical detail and references, and I enjoyed many of the smaller moments, such as the painter who gets absorbed into a painting he so loves.
HOWEVER: I found this book to be incredibly sexist. Before I go into details, let me first say: I'm a history major, so I do understand that the time period was in many ways inherently sexist, and I also have no trouble believing that a Sultan and a fictional Machiavelli, among others, were themselves sexist.
This book is entitled the EnchantRESS of Florence, so I assume I can be forgiven for my presumptions that somewhere along the way we would meet a strong, powerful woman, or at least that a modern writer like Rushdie wouldn't stoop to the prejudices of the time.
Every woman in this book is either a whore or is treated as one. Reviewers have commented that the overwhelming sexuality of the book can be off-putting; it is that overwhelmingly sexual because there is not a single female character who is doing anything BUT have sex. The men fight wars, contemplate the meaning of life and power, travel, paint, hunt, read, write, and listen to stories, before getting back to their women who have sex.
If a woman's not having sex, she's contemplating sex, or venting her frustration about the fact that she's not having sex, or showing her jealousy that her husband really wants to have sex with other women more than her. In fact, most of the book seems to be about women who aren't good enough at having sex, and so the men have to go off and imagine other women (or find prostitutes) who are good at having sex.
And our Enchantress, for whom the book is named? Guess what her wonderful, magic powers are? She makes men want to have sex with her! This is called, in Rushdie's elegant prose, "falling in love," but in the end no one actually ever gets to know her, so how on earth can they be in love with her?
She's slightly different from the others, though, because she happens to also have sex with another woman. WOAH. Talk about empowering. I'm so glad all those feminists worked so hard for us to achieve equality, so that our literary sisters could have sex with not just men, but also women.
I read the entire book, because I felt I couldn't properly judge it otherwise, and I desperately hoped it would get better, but it doesn't. If you're the kind of person for whom this would be a bother, I definitely do not recommend this book. If, on the other hand, a narrative that degrades females at every opportunity sounds like your kind of thing, enjoy.
[Sigh. It seems all my posts lately have been of the ranting quality. Perhaps I'll write one soon in which I'm actually happy about a book. I do love reading, really I do!]