on 11 December 2013
Very interesting to compare with the recent film. The book shows everything through the child's eyes and lets one draw one's own conclusions about the other characters. The film turned it into yet another story about how a (pretty) child can draw a couple of adults together and help them find happiness. Typical Christmas film stuff. The book is much more disturbing -- it's hard to tell whether, at the end, Maisie is in the happiest possible situation or in one that will be stifling and unfair to her developing intelligence.
on 1 October 2013
I like to read a Henry James novel every year or so: I love the clarity of his thought and the ethical dilemmas that he presents to his characters (and his readers!).
This short novel is incredibly modern in its subject-matter: a little girl, fruit of a loveless marriage who is neglected by both her parents. Maisie is a very attrattive child to the reader: never precocious or irritating. James pulls off the incredible feat of an unmarried, middle-aged man writing from a child's prespective, and his writing is both believable and moving.
Read it and be prepared to have your heart broken!
on 12 October 2013
Having seen the recent (excellent) film of the book, I thought I must read it. Unfortunately, it is very hard work. The writing is dense upon the page and very 19th century. It is rather unpleasant and somewhat repetitive. The material is depressing, of course, because the story is about selfish parents who actually don't like and so ignore their daughter. I was so glad when the book finished!
on 26 July 2013
I've been wondering for years how to write about a Henry James novel. Whenever I try and describe his books to friends, I sow discouragement and disinclination wherever I go, failing to telegraph the magical beauty that lies in all James' great works: the meaning, the observational intensity, the humane humour and sadness, the flashes of extraordinary insight into what makes people tick.
"What Maisie Knew" is the story of a little girl through whose eyes we watch, with sadness, wry smiles and occasional horror and trepidation, the machinations of the various adults around her, who are embroiled in her parents' epic love battles, deconstructed so that its component parts become essentially puppets in a punch and judy show, watched with intelligence and mystery by the child. The moments of real love or kindness are so rare as to be extremely touching: it's above all a tragicomedy, a satire.
The virtuoso quality of his prose thrills with the vibrato of his grasp on the myriad ways people find to communicate whatever they mean to say. In exquisite, hyper-real language he forces you again and again to look - and you see - oh, too much. Everything hidden and visible, everything spoken and unspoken. Gauzy veils of meaning, subtext and intent, corruption and beauty, reveal themselves woozily under his masterful touch, at every turn, in each exquisitely painted, impressionistic scene. They are loaded, nonetheless, with sharp little stings for the unwary (who might believe they're along merely for an elegantly pretty ride in a period drama).
That can make for an intense, almost physical reading experience that sometimes leaves me groping my way through the story, enjoying the experience while simultaneously somewhat exhausted by the effort of keeping up with it. I occasionally have to strangle a desire to shout "just SAY what you MEAN, man!" But of course it's crass as well as beside the point, to wish to tear away such painstakingly constructed layers of meaning.
Henry James left the world lasting gifts of the very finest order, justly-named 'classic' literature of a very special, rare kind, to be savoured forever. Any effort and attention needed to read his novels are richly rewarded. I also loved "Portrait of a Lady", "Washington Square" and "The Turn of the Screw", but I'd put "The Ambassadors" up there as my ultimate Henry James novel, the pinnacle of his art. In the marvellous culture-clash of the `new' world of America versus the `old' world of Europe in the nineteenth century, he found his theoretical muse.
on 22 April 2015
It is some years since I have read any of Henry James' work, so it took me sometime to re-engage with his rhythm of writing. I often found myself re-reading sentences, to ensure I understood what he was conveying. The subject matter was very interesting, particularly set back in time to the mid 19th century. Although earlier authors often dealt with orphans and the consequent way their lives developed, I found this a brave venture into the effects of divorce on a child. To view Masie's life with a child's innocence and literal belief is quite humbling.
on 16 December 2014
This is a remarkable story of an acrimonious divorce seen through the eyes of a child. Maisie is shared between her vituperative parents. Both are cavalier in regard to their responsibilities; both re-marry unsuccessfully; affairs and liaisons flourish, and yet Maisie's essential goodness survives.
An excellent morality tale.
on 18 August 2013
This is one of Henry James best novels, that is particularly relevant to present day social mores. I shall look forward to seeing the film. It is, however not an easy read, as James' convoluted sentences and long paragraphs need an high level of concentration.