Tuesday, October 30, 2012

of making many books there is no end

I wrote a little while back that I was reading The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, and further that I can take Henry James only in small doses. By the time I finished Portrait of a Lady, however, I was in its grip. Even though I remembered the main story, I had forgotten some details, and I got into the tension of seeing how and when Isabel Archer would discover the secrets around her.

So I decided to give The Golden Bowl another try, and I now have gotten further in it than I ever have before. I fortunately don't know the details of how this story is going to unfold, so it's intriguing. You get to see the golden bowl of the title in an early chapter, and now I am waiting for its reappearance.

Still, these are very inward dramas. It sometimes feels like Henry James's books are all about people picking up on each other's vibes without actually saying or doing much. And he has big extended metaphors about how, for example, people or situations resemble a building. At one point a female character is dealing with a situation that is like a pagoda in a garden and she is walking around it looking for an entry, meanwhile seeing other characters looking out from within. This sort of thing goes on for paragraphs, and her attempts to penetrate the pagoda are a plot development, even though the whole thing is just a comparison in her mind, or perhaps only the narrator's mind. Another time, a male character is like a large neo-classical structure in the village green of another character's life. Fortunately, his siding is smooth, not pointy.


Still, I'm enjoying it and rooting for Maggie Verver, now married to the handsome and irresistible Italian Prince Amerigo.

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