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Tiresome and obvious, but possibly enjoyable for fans of the period
on 29 August 2013
James' well regarded novella, The Beast in the Jungle, is as much a treatise on loneliness, as it is a fable about purpose, meaning, and the inherent cruelty of a life enthralled to fate. Steeped in the language of its time, its prose is dense and thriving with social and moral observation, and for fans of the period it is, quite probably, an essential piece of fiction.
Nonetheless, as a reader who struggles to align the subtler qualities of nineteenth century literature with my twenty-first century tastes, I find it difficult to find much congruence with the praise of so many other critics. The characterisation is not so much unconvincing, but is firmly focused on a couple of staid characters, and the wait for the beast is tiresome, and when finally exposed is entirely as anticipated.
If there is genius in the story, then to me it lies in making the reader suffer a microcosm of the indolent life of the protagonist, Mercher, and the climax of the book is not found within the book, but rather, after the last page, with the realisation that the reader needs read no more.