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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.
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on 7 June 2009
At a dinner party in 1892, Henry James heard about an unusual divorce settlement in which the child was not, as was usual given to one parent to bring up, but was to alternate between them. Interested in the potentialities of this situation, the seed thus planted grew via a short story, into a novel published in 1897.

The narrative voice telling the story is filtered largely through the child Maisie's perceptions of events and allows her to be the innocent observer, to see all the moral inadequacies, failings and deviousness of adult life without any clear understanding of what it all really means. The reader, however, older, wiser and no doubt more cynical than Maisie, can see the reasons for her perpetual changes of residence between parents, step-parents, nurse and governesses and all the games they play with her life and happiness, for what it really is. This is novel is about the lust and the selfishness that James perceived to be at the centre of London life at the turn of the century.

It is a humorous, warm story, despite the subject matter and it is written with a wit and lightness of touch that allows the reader to observe these deviousand morally frail grown-ups who exert power over Maisie as not without charm. They themselves are buffeted by forces beyond their control. Money, or the lack of it, is central to the experience of all the main characters, all of whom feel entitled to be rich or acquire riches through their own sexual attractions.

The delightful Sir Claude who has real affection for Maisie, the narrowly moral Mrs Wix and Maisie herself, are all great comic creations. The style, as always with James is demanding, slow paced and needs to be read slowly. The pay-off however, is a novel of great richness and satisfaction for the reader. It anticipates later novels such as Atonement and Lolita, both of which, of course, are sexual explicit. Nonetheless, James' novel's acknowledgement that sexual trading is the basis of his society's currency is still shocking, even for readers today, who might have expected otherwise from innocent and more distant days. Plus ca change...
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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.
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on 3 August 2017
it is for a course I am taking just the ticket
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on 6 October 2013
I decided to read (or maybe re-read) What Maisie Knew after seeing the recent film, mainly to see how true the film was to the book. Have enjoyed Henry James in the past, but found this book to be almost unreadable - so many sentences needed reading more than once to try and make sense of them - and abandoned it half way through.

I'd take the film every time, despite a typically Hollywood revised ending.
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on 6 June 2014
This was a book club suggestion and so struggled through to the end for that reason, otherwise would have given up early on. Poorly written, repetititive, boring. Couldn't wait to finish it!
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on 7 December 2014
Perhaps James's most successful novel: for once, the elegant prose is largely free of constipation and self-regard. Not an easy read, however, and the best way to enjoy the novel is the superb unabridged audiobook read by Maureen O'Brien (Cover-to-Cover).
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on 21 September 2013
This is beautifully written and James sees clearly the life of a small child with difficult parents and step-parents. Given the period when this book was written, the psychological insights are very impressive.
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on 1 September 2014
I'veonly read a couple of books by Henry James, but I've enjoyed them. What Maisie Knew was a chore. The premise is horrible - a child used by her divorced parents in a horrible game of revenge, forced into an adult frame of mind she barely understands but somehow manages to embrace. There were long passages where nothing happened that were described by James in verbose and repetitive language. It should not have taken me 11 days to get to the end, but I found myself doing anything and everything rather than sitting down to read this monstrosity.
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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!
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