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Book Review: The Last Enchantments by Charles Finch (4/5)

23 Jan

I haven’t done a First Reads Book Review for a while so I’m excited to do this again. I won a copy of The Last Enchantments from the Goodreads First Reads program.

This book counts as Foreign Country: England (UK) for my Where Are You Reading? Challenge and as 1990-Present for my When Are You Reading? Challenge. This is book number 4 on my way to my Goodreads Challenge of 35 books. You can view my Challenges page to learn more.

Cover Image via

Cover Image via

The Last Enchantments by Charles Finch.

Will has decided to leave his life and girlfriend in New York to do a year-long study at Oxford. He’s leaving behind not only his girlfriend, Alison, but his budding career in politics after John Kerry lost the 2004 election. He meets his roommates, Tom and Anil, and numerous new friends including Ella, Anneliese, and the ephemeral Sophie. Soon after his arrival, Will is unfaithful to Alison, going home with a girl from the bar. He feels guilty, but doesn’t come clean to Alison. It’s only when he has a romantic moment with Sophie and admits that he likes her that Will finally takes a break with Alison. He tells her that for them to be able to have a clean break, they should remain chaste for a few months, just to make sure there’s no jealousy or rebounds. Alison complies and we wouldn’t have a story if Will didn’t sleep around.

He bounces from girl to girl, thinking of futures with Sophie and Alison both. Having lost the guidance Alison provided, Will is unsure what to do after his year at Oxford. He accepts two jobs, one in Ohio and one in London and is not quite sure where he should end up. All of his friends around him are making plans for the next year and falling in love and Will seems to be floating between worlds.

Rating this book was hard for me. It was a very compelling read and I found it hard to put it down. At the same time, I hated most of the characters. Tom was arrogant, Sophie was a tease, Alison was clingy, and Will couldn’t make a decision to save his life. I felt like throwing the book across the room when I finished it and I would have if my husband hasn’t been asleep. I wanted to give it three right away, but having such a strong emotion about a book means that its worthy of one more than I think.

The book left me very thankful of the life I have. I’m about the same age as the main character, Will, but am much more settled and happy with myself. Will seemed very lost and jumped around looking for meaning and acceptance in everything that passed him by. He seemed much younger than he was because of this.

A lot of Will’s time at Oxford was focused on his romantic endeavors. He was dating Alison and then Jess and then Sophie and then no one etc. Ultimately, he found that his romantic partners didn’t define him. He tried different jobs that didn’t interest him either. Eventually, he was able to return to what he loved, politics, back in the US and there wasn’t a single romantic tie to hold him to what he wanted. I think the author was trying to encourage us to be on our own and be ourselves when we’re young, because there’s really no better time to do what you love.

A reoccurring theme I saw was trying to find where you belong. Will isn’t British but finds a niche for himself at Oxford where he can catch on to the traditions and lingo quickly. Then he realizes that he’s not comfortable outside of Oxford when he visits London and sees people who don’t go to the University with him. When he goes home to see his mother, I think he finally felt at home for the first time and realized that he wasn’t finding a place he belonged but rather was running away from a home that had disappointed him. I’m glad he finally went back home. I’ve heard it said that if you live someone for five years, going back to where you lived before is difficult because it’s no longer your home. I don’t think Will really wanted to be British.

I can’t recall another book that this reminds me of, but it makes me think of author Ursula Hegi who wrote Stones from the River. She had lived in Germany for so long that she felt German instead of American. I think her books reflect her deep love and understanding of the German people.

Writer’s Takeaway: A minor thing, but I found a few capitalization errors in this book that really distracted me from the text. When sending out ARCs, it’s good to check this first.

This book kept moving forward, which I really liked. It was character driven, which I’m not a huge fan of and the lack of a central plot action disappointed me a bit. While I was frustrated and mad at the characters, I didn’t care about them. Will could have ended up eaten by bears and Sophie sold into sexual slavery and I think I would have been just as frustrated. The character’s decisions were so sporadic and spur of the moment that I was frustrated. Will said twice that he made major decisions without really explaining why or what had triggered his sudden decision to make them. I found that really frustrating.

Overall a compelling and interesting read. I’m not sure I would recommend it but it was interesting nonetheless. Four out of five stars.

Until next time, Reader, write on.

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Book Review: “The Last Enchantments” by Charles Finch (ARC)|Scribbles and Wanderlust