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The harrowing of a child,
This review is from: What Maisie Knew (Wordsworth Classics) (Paperback)
What is really remarkable about the book is not what Maisie knew, but what Henry James himself knew. Whether Maisie (a very young child) acts and speaks guilelesly, or whether she is informed by a growing degree of calculated reasoning, is not really the central point - although the bridge between childish and adult sensibilities is one that fascinated James.
What Maisie knew...was that she needed two warm, loving, consistent and dependable parents. This tale not only charts the unspeakable behaviour of the adults around her, who use her as an instrument in their self-centred battles, and who relentlessly pursue their self-absorbed lives, but Maisie's instinctive determination to establish a secure environment for herself. When she is forced to abandon hope that her natural parents will mend their lives and get back together again, (the first preoccupation of any child in this situation), she looks to her step-parents and - in the end - any substitute parents at all, amongst the chaotic combinations and re-combinations that are presented to her.
This short novel is not always easy to read. James's style, syntax and convoluted sentences, (you have to read many passages over and over again to get their meaning, and sometimes it is not possible to understand the sense of them at all), add to the difficulty. But this is book well worth reading, even if you do not really like Henry James's novels. The subject is a painful one, but it has vivid contemporary resonance.
Anyone who has has ever been professionally involved in legal custody battles over children will find much that is very familiar. The parents who plead poverty and neglect a child, but who can always find money for their own amusements and interests...parents who promise treats on a visit then suddenly find they have other priorities... parents who quiz the child about the behaviour of the estranged partner, and who are even prepared to tell the child "your father hates you" or "your mother wishes you were dead!" And the ultimate rejection for a child, finding that once a parent has another love interest, he or she has become not even a pawn in their games any more, but an unwanted burden.