Only Henry James can take a beguiling idea like quasi-incestuous adultery, add an Italian prince, a billionaire art collector, and exotic foreign travel, and make a story so tedious that it is a true chore to read.
James writes in wisps of ideas, continually layering these wisps until there is a shimmery, translucent image that gives an idea of what he is trying to get at. These literary holograms are sometimes pretty, often interesting up to a point, but there is no substance to them. By the time the image emerges from the wisps, all I can think is, “So what?”
I can appreciate the talent it took to write an entire novel without saying anything directly. James definitely had a skill that he developed to the utmost. But while I admire the talent, I have no desire to make it a part of my life. I appreciate James’s talent the way I appreciate that of the artists who can paint the face of Jesus on a grain of rice. Impressive, but I’m not going to collect a gallery of rice portraits.
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This was one of the three Henry James books on the Modern Library's list of Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century.