I recently finished Special Topics in Calamity Physics and The Enchantress of Florence. Both had similar qualities and similar failings — the writing skills of the authors are undeniable, yet neither lead you anywhere interesting. At the end of the day, you read a lot of explosive, highly stylized language, but it amounts to little more than that.
This has always been my problem with Salman Rushdie. I read the Moor’s Last Sigh, and although I was immensely impressed at every corner by Rushdie’s abilities, as the story moved on I could care less about the main character. Then I gave the Satanic Verses a try, and after 100 pages, I simply gave up. It was thoroughly uninteresting.
The Enchantress of Florence was at least more interesting. It was reminiscent of other books I have read in the past year or so — of Ibn Battutah, Amin Maalouf, and even of Umberto Eco (you felt like he hired Eco’s university staff to impress you). But once again, after all of Rushdie’s wordy acrobatics and plot twists, I would have preferred to re-read the Battutah or Maalouf.
At least with Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics, you have interesting characters (although some of them seemed borrowed from other novels — the father could come straight out of Nabokov), and a story you can’t put down, even if it doesn’t take you anywhere in the end. But then again who cares? I actually never remember the end to any book I read or movie I see. The ride is important, and for some reason, I have never been able to stay awake Mr. Rushdie’s road. Meanwhile with Calamity Physics, the ride was great, but the destination was much ado about nothing.