Posted by: Nathan | January 4, 2007

Review: The Ambassadors

Finally, I got to a book review. I had already read two of Henry James‘ works (Portrait of a Lady, and The Turn of the Screw), but I read them early in my literary career; thus, I didn’t get as much out of them as I could have. However, The Ambassadors is a great novel, and I thoroughly enjoyed it (best assigned reading of the fall for me).

ambassadors.jpgThe story is of Lambert Strether’s trip to Europe (James does a lot of trans-Atlantic subjects) and his efforts to bring his would-be son-in-law Chad back to the States. Once Strether arrives in Paris, he finds the situation to be far more complicated than he anticipated, and he has to re-evaluate his values and purposes.

What makes it exceptional: 1. The character of Strether. The reader sees everything that occurs from his point of view (though the book is written in 3rd person), and therefore squi shares Strether’s impressions, confusion, and journey. Strether is a delightful character.

2. The indirectness of the prose. James is the consummate novelist of implication; he hardly every tells the reader anything—everything is guesswork. You might think that would be frustrating, and sometimes it is, but life is rarely direct; by effective use of implication, James keeps the reader guessing as to what the basic plot is. That makes the book terribly entrancing.

3. The Jamesian style. Okay, so his dialogue is completely absurd—no one would ever talk that way—but it’s highly enjoyable. I’m a reader who loves dialogue, and though much of the novel is description, the dialogue is delightful whenever it appears. James pays careful attention to his prose; writing is his craft, and he takes pains to make it good. He’s is a true artist. Also, occasionally in the prose, James’ description just soars into the imagination with no effort from the reader. He can paint a beautiful scene.

Unlike a lot of “literary” novels, this one is enjoyable and fun. I liked it tremendously and plan to read more James in the future. An additional reason to love this novel is the Paris setting, as if I needed more motivation to visit the City of Lights. 8.8/10 and a strong A-.

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