Monday, June 4, 2007

Review: Washington Square by Henry James

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At first I was fairly sure I would not enjoy this book. It starts slowly, but I could not work out why - Mr James writes very well, but I felt it lacked something. At the start of chapter four I realised what it was: dialogue. Because when it starts, things really start moving, and such great dialogue it is.
The plot concerns a young women, who is prevented from marrying her lover, due to the opposition of her father. The fact that her father's misgivings are entirely justified is what gives the book its potency: father and daughter are locked in a delicate battle that neither can win. In fact, the conclusion of the plot reveals how similar they both are at core, despite being told the opposite several times: both have had an awful experience of loss, from which neither can ever recover. The lady's aunt supplies the comic relief, and she is great value.
I have seen this novel compared to Jane Austen elsewhere, and there are similarities - at one stage the book felt like Pride and Prejudice with Jane Bennet as the heroine. However, the book overall lacks one of Austen's great virtues: she cares for all the characters in her books, most probably because she was related to them herself, and could see their strengths and weaknesses co-mingled. Henry James sometimes seems to be looking at his creations like a biologist peering down a microscope.

This audiobook was a solo recording by Dawn Murphy, who brings a warm and friendly voice to the novel, and was an absolute pleasure to listen to.

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