Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Ambassadors (Henry James)

This book is slow to get going, I will admit. This is probably the fourth time I've started it, and I am a Henry James fan. I guess my main issue with this book is the premise. There's all this Jamesean drama over this kid who moves to Paris, because his mother wants him to move back home. Seriously, that's the premise. Mom wants him home. She sends Lambert Strether (her boyfriend, as it were) to get him back. And then Strether has lots of experiences, and Paris changes him.

Every emotional nuance of every person involved is explored. And while that can be wonderful in, say, Wings of the Dove, with its perverse love triangle and its wonderful complexity, with a book like this, it seems to serve a slightly more banal purpose. All the same, the ending really did affect me because I did care about Strether and his journey. But it made me want to see the movie version of it (if there is one). On the other hand, The Portrait of a Lady made me want to stay far, far away from the movie of it, because the book couldn't be improved.

I did, in the end, like The Ambassadors. I liked Strether and even sympathized with him. And I still love James and his crazy ass sentences. But every so often I'd step back and think, "So the guy stays in Paris. Who gives a rat's ass?" That's probably not a great sign.

"Live all you can; it's a mistake not to. It doesn't so much matter what you do in particular, so long as you have your life. If you haven't had that what have you had?...The right time is any time that one is still so lucky as to have. You've plenty; that's the great thing; you're, as I say, damn you, so happily and hatefully young." Page 130


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