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The Golden Bowl (Oxford World's Classics) Paperback – 29 Jan 2009
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Top customer reviews
The main plot idea is pretty simple, as arguably are all James'. Maggie Verver and her father are both American and rely on each other to the exclusion of all others, in some ways a kind of incestuous relationship, but a simple innocent one, not something sordid. They both get married, neither of them knowing about the relationships of their partners. When Maggie finds out she decides to take some kind of action. At the same time we have the Assinghams, husband and wife looking on at what is happening, or rather we have the wife who reports everything to her husband.
Taking in how people can innocently contribute to problems, and due to ignorance don't realise what is going on under their noses, this book is a detailed and quite charged look at marriage, and how people have to work hard to keep a marriage intact at times.
As somewhat of a literary snob, I am rather disappointed that I didn't like this more. I ploughed through this novel with good intentions, but I can't say that it wasn't a relief to reach the end. I found it rather convoluted and difficult to follow, and can honestly remember only several incidents that occur throughout. I feel that it's longer than it ought to be. The bowl is mentioned at the start of the novel and at the end - in the middle, I found myself rather lost.
Like many of James' novels, there's one rather simple idea or situation that is then drawn out for a novel-length story. In some cases, this is successful (in 'What Maisie Knew' for example, mainly because it's about half as long as 'The Golden Bowl') but not so much here, I don't think. The characters are not likeable and not particularly believable, and I found the relationships a little weird. Maggie and her father are astonishingly close and although it's not supposed to be incestuous you can't help but wonder. Then Maggie's father marries Maggie's best friend Charlotte. Maggie is delighted with the new arrangement and later calls Charlotte her 'step-mother'. Yuck.
There are, of course, some positives too. The writing is hard to follow but beautiful in places - it's not called his 'poetic masterpiece' for nothing. The symbolism and metaphors are interesting, and the introduction in this edition is very good. So all in all, I found this book hard-going when reading, but thought-provoking afterwards. I'm sure there must be many layers to this book - even though some of them seem to have been beyond me. I'm pleased to have read it, but have no intentions to re-read it in a hurry. I often found that I'd read a large chunk of text and have absolutely no idea what was going on.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
James is the master of moral ambiguity, which he brings to his most painful and cruel apex in this novel.
There's too much to say about it to fit into a little amazon review, but one of the things I most love about
it is that the reader is left no comfortable place to "stand." James leaves us no character with whom we can
fully identify and not question what that says about us. IF the theme of this story had to be summed up
in a capsule (an idea which James, of course, would ridicule), it might be that no moral failure happens
in a vacuum, and that individual people determine more of each others' characters than they perhaps intend to. And,
as Lionel Trilling always taught his students, "follow the money."
It's possible that the novel as a form got as perfect as it's ever going to get with James, and that this is his best,
so if you care about novels, you want to read this one more than once, and to live with it, and to let it