Monday, May 24, 2010

Henry James Fatigue

A long time ago, at some flea market or antique shop that I've since forgotten, I picked up this copy of The Ambassadors by Henry James.

Better than a plain old used book, it's actually a vintage library book. The old Brooklyn Public Library stamp is still inside the front cover.

Until about two weeks ago, this book kept getting passed over when I reached for something from my shelf. I finally picked it up, and it completely wore me out!

The Ambassadors
is the story of a middle-aged man named Strether who, about to marry into an old New England family, is first sent to Europe to rescue their errant son and bring him home to step into the family business. Paris ends up having quite the effect on Strether, and another "ambassador" has to be sent to rescue him.

Like most Henry James novels, it revolves around the manners, customs, and social maneuverings of Americans abroad. The Ambassadors just seemed to take this to a greater degree than the others I've read. About 25% of the plot is made up of dialogue. The other 75% is made up of characters analyzing what's just been said or thinking about what's about to be said. And it's all done in intricate, meandering paragraphs, which are made up of intricate, meandering sentences that require you to be 100% focused at all times. I'd find myself getting heavy-lidded after a few pages. Of course, that may have also been due in part to the small, old-fashioned print in this particular copy:

I will say that despite being on the brink of casting this aside several times, I did tough it out to the end and found myself legitimately interested in the last quarter of the book. It was a long road to get there, though, and I don't recommend it lightly since it may result in Henry James Fatigue. It's a real medical condition.

1 comment:

  1. One of the most painful reading experiences of my life that I could not bring myself to finish. I hated it so much! You must be congratulated for slugging through this tedious and dull novel.



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