Monday, December 6, 2010
Book Review: The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff
Alysha Gale is 24 and jobless. Lack of funds ended the museum job she loved and has forced her to return back home. It is during this time she receives a mysterious letter from her estranged grandmother. The letter tells her she has inherited a store in Calgary, and must go and maintain it at once. The disappearance of the grandmother needs to be looked into, so the family agrees to let Alysha go and mind the store in order to solve the mystery.
There is a thing writers do to explain the world in which their story takes place, or to provide some history to the characters. This is called exposition, and some of it usually takes place at the start of a book. Exposition is important since it provides a foundation for the entire story. Too much exposition can be boring or tedious, but not enough can be disastrous. The Enchantment Emporium has no exposition at all. The story just starts and you’re left to figure things out from context. That might have been OK if the story was of a normal family in a setting you are familiar with. Unfortunately there is nothing normal about the Gale family or the world they live in.
The Gale family is governed by a collection of “Aunties.” The Aunties make all decisions regarding the family and generally give everyone, including each other, a hard time. Alysha’s return home coincides with a Gale family tradition called “Ritual,” so the house is abuzz with family coming home for the event Apparently “Ritual” is also rutting season for male family members, and their ethereal antlers are on display. Stay with me, it gets better. Family from all over the country are coming home for “Ritual,” and you meet around thirteen of them in the first few pages of the book. The Gales are a close family, so close, in fact, that they regularly have sex with one another. Cousin on cousin action is par for the course.
Throughout the beginning of the book, Alysha is often on the phone with other people. Her conversations with these people are sometimes used as narration. In one such scene Alysha has just entered the store she inherited from her Grandma and is “investigating” her disappearance. The person she is chatting with whilst rummaging through her grandma’s drawers is Michael, the gay love of her life who is now living with his boyfriend somewhere far away. The conversation goes as follows:
I don't care if one of them looks like yours, I'm not even considering the word interesting as a reaction to a drawer full of my grandmother's sex toys.
I ejected the CD, put it away and slid it back into the glove compartment. I turned on the radio and began to contemplate this review.
Tanya Huff has a lot of fans, and is obviously a talented author. The Enchantment Emporium is regularly given 4 and 5 star reviews. Our very own Ruth gave it 4.5 stars. I am quite confident the problem with the book is actually a problem with me. I can see no other explanation. I feel like I just tried to read the greatest book ever written and it’s in a language that everyone understands but me. I will probably lose sleep thinking about this book and wonder how I failed it. Maybe the context for this novel is in other Huff books? Tell me Tanya Huff fans, why isn’t this book as terrible as the opening chapter makes it out to be?
I took away at least one positive from my experience, and that was Teri Clark Linden. Teri is the voice actor of the Brilliance Audio version of the book. Teri captures the individual personalities of the many characters very well. She uses a Canadian accent for the Aunties that is both amusing and charming. The bickering amongst the Aunties around the kitchen is how I imagine the Palin household might sound like around Thanksgiving, “Dontchya know.” —Justin
You can also learn more about Tanya Huff’s books at the Fantasyliterature Tanaya Huff page