Top critical review
One person found this helpful
Magnificent achievement, turgid read.
on 17 March 2016
This one took me forever: I read it on and off, but that's because it's hard reading. Henry James engineers mighty sentences so perfect that you could drive a train over them, but the pace of his tale makes glaciers look frantic.
The saintly Maggie and her rich, successful father are devoted to each other. They meet a Prince in Italy to whom Maggie becomes engaged. By coincidence, he's had a past affair with Maggie's friend Charlotte. The love triangle develops into a love quad-wrangle, aided by everybody's confidante, society busybody Mrs Assingham, and her pricelessly irascible husband.
A couple more sentences would suffice to convey the entire 'plot', but then this novel is not intended as a twisty thriller - or not in the conventional manner. Prefiguring stream-of-consciousness writing, James reports each focal character's every thought, with intricate psychological nuance and immaculate precision. Without a single unconsidered word, he tells the least amount of story in the greatest possible time. It's an unquestionably impressive feat, but I fear it lacks mass-market appeal...
Yet if you can keep chewing it is strangely gripping in its own way. For all that characters think and say, it is what hangs unsaid between them that fascinates them and us, as every conversation is conducted round the corners of the ever-inflating elephant in the room. Decide for yourself if you fancy tackling prose like this:
Her father had asked her, three days later, in an interval of calm, how she was affected, in the light of their reappearance and of their now perhaps richer fruition, by Dotty and Kitty, and by the once formidable Mrs. Rance; and the consequence of this inquiry had been, for the pair, just such another stroll together, away from the rest of the party and off into the park, as had asserted its need to them on the occasion of the previous visit of these anciently more agitating friends—that of their long talk, on a sequestered bench beneath one of the great trees, when the particular question had come up for them the then purblind discussion of which, at their enjoyed leisure, Maggie had formed the habit of regarding as the "first beginning" of their present situation.
And if you're happy to overlook this:
...the vendor of the golden bowl had acted on a scruple rare enough in vendors of any class, and almost unprecedented in the thrifty children of Israel.
Or vulgar enough to snigger with me at:
...the conscious quaintness of her ricketty "growler".