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2.3 out of 5 stars
2.3 out of 5 stars

So far this is the first book of James' that I have absolutely come to loath. Often grouped with 'The Bostonians' due to its political leanings this isn't really that enjoyable. There is some good characterisation here but the whole story seems to meander on for way too long, indeed James was originally tasked with writing a short story, but he ended up producing a novel, rather like Balzac, sometimes he gets carried away a bit too much.

This book it has to be admitted has always been enjoyed more Stateside than it has in this country, but it has always divided reviewers on its merits and failings. The story of an illegitimate boy brought up by a relative stranger from an early age because his mother is in prison would seem like a good starting point. But alas when the radical politics start getting involved and our 'hero' having to decide whether to go ahead with a terrorist attack or do something else then tragedy strikes. The problem here is that the whole story is dragged out and it is oh so easy to lose interest, also James isn't really that up on what he is writing about, for instance compare this to the brilliant The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale, by Joseph Conrad.

All in all I was left disappointed, and if you have never read any James before, then DO NOT start with this book. Despite its many faults though there is a good sense of our main character feeling and being isolated and a loner throughout the story.
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on 31 January 2016
I downloaded a copy of Princess Casamassima by Henry James from ForgottenBooks when it was their free Book Of The Day.

Princess Casamassima is a six hundred page novel which felt to me more like a thousand page book. It's taken me well over a week to read it! I loved how James takes his readers into the London of weak-willed bookbinder Hyacinth Robinson. His descriptions of houses and streets, and his wonderfully nuanced characters kept me reading and interested to the end, but he is not a concise author by any stretch - I frequently found myself willing him to 'get on with it'! We must have been told of Hyacinth's dubious parentage two dozen times and word-for-word reported conversations are never to the point. From a brief synopsis, Princess Casamassima could be classed as a thriller. Our young hero Hyacinth joins a shadowy group dedicated to class revolution in England. He undertakes to perform a shocking act on their behalf, possibly even a murder, however James is so vague about the group, their real aims, the act assigned to Hyacinth, and whether Hyacinth really cares at all, that any tension evaporates as fast as it is created. Instead, we spend our time drinking copious cups of tea with a disparate cast: a dressmaker and a shop girl, a music hall violinist and a bedridden girl, an Italian princess and an exiled French revolutionary, a philanthropic Lady and a chemist's assistant. The minutiae of their interactions is as fascinating as it is infuriating which makes for a very strange novel.

Based on my experience of Princess Casamassima I probably won't rush to read James again any time soon, but wouldn't rule his other novels out completely in the future - providing I can set aside enough time!
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on 16 March 2010
This is probably the most untypical novel Henry James wrote. His sure footing when dealing with the leasurely wealthy, slips here. The characters simply do not convince and James appears almost patronising towards them. His hero has the most annoying and inappropriate name - "Hyacinth."
I suppose James should be commended for reaching outside his normal milieu, but "The Master" is not on form here. A clumsy long-winded apprentice has taken his place.
The is one for the completists only. For anyone new to Henry James try "The Portrait of a Lady," "The American", "Daisy Miller" or "The Europeans"- all great, accomplished books.
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on 3 March 2016
an unputdownable novel set in the streets of London in the time of anarchy which is an unusual and well drawn canvas for James with strong characters and background details. Rarely seen in bookshops for some reason.
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