I went into this book with an open mind; I didn’t know anything about the story and I’ve never read anything else by Henry James, so I didn’t know what to expect style-wise.
First thing to point out… this is a looong book, and it’s not the easiest to read to start with. James favours very long, complex sentences that can be quite arduous to get through. However, once I’d got used to the slightly awkward, stream-of-consciousness style I really got into the story.
James manages to conjure a vivid world of decadence that definitely appealed to me; I love that kind of old world glamour and drama. The characters are great, whether like them as people or not, they all elicit some sort of emotion in me. The ‘villains’ are superb; Osmond and Madame Merle are both a twist on Gothic archetypes: the tyrannical oppressor and the manipulative femme fatale. Strangely, the character that appealed to me the least was Isabel (the protagonist). I found her completely frustrating! Having said that, provoking any feeling in a reader is surely a sign of literary genius.
I found the ending truly maddening… it seemed like a thousand pages of anticipation had ended in lukewarm nothingness. Not impressed! But I did enjoy the book as a whole… it was interesting reading something in a completely different style. I’m definitely going to try another Henry James in the future, but I think next time I might go for something a bit shorter…