Sunday, August 3, 2008

Review: The Ambassadors



Henry James is not one of my favorite authors, although I feel compelled to read his books because he so powerfully influenced 20th Century writing. As I've mentioned before, his talent reminds me of artists capable of painting portraits on grains of rice.

I found The Ambassadors to be typical James sludge. For example, a convoluted paragraph a page and a half long that I had to read twice just to realize that all the guy was doing was wandering around, looking for a place to read a letter. Ugh! Slow going to the very last page.

Because I didn’t get the main point of the plot, so veiled was it in Jamsien fog, I didn’t care about any of the characters. Their dithering drove me up a wall.

As always, I am reminded of the famous observation by H.G. Wells that a novel by Henry James is
like a church lit but without a congregation to distract you, with every light and line focused on the high altar. And on the altar, very reverentially placed, intensely there, is a dead kitten, an egg-shell, a bit of string. . . . It is leviathan retrieving pebbles. It is a magnificent but painful hippopotamus resolved at any cost, even at the cost of its dignity, upon picking up a pea, which has got to the corner of its den.


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