Sunday, August 28, 2011

What Maisie Knew by Henry James

I closed the book when I finished. I stared off into space with a distinct feeling of "uh. ok...moving on..." The biggest criticism you'll ever hear of Henry James is that his multi-clausal sentences and page-long paragraphs are convoluted and confusing, but I've never had a really problem with them. I actually think they way he phrases things mimics the way we move from thought to thought to thought in a connected but sometimes bizarre way. I thought his style was brilliant in The Portrait of a Lady, but here I just..stopped caring.

What Maisie Knew is about a young girl whose parents get divorced and ferry her back and forth, using her to make the other miserable whilst generally being slutty and inappropriate in front of the kid. Both parents remarry, picking slutty and inappropriate people as spouses. Sluttiness and inappropriateness ensue. Maisie is one part very perceptive and 4,503 parts the witness of conversations and situations One Never Does Or Says In Front Of Children. So while the entire book is a criticism of the selfishness of some parents and an interesting look into the mind of a child, I spent a BIG HUGE LOT amount of time going YEAH BUT WHO SAYS THAT IN FRONT OF A KID.

If you're in the particular mood to remember what it's like to be a child who knows more than adults think you do, and who sometimes manipulates adults so you can continue knowing more than they think you do, this would be great for you. Like always, James is insightful in a way that makes you bat yourself around the ears and yell GET AWAY FROM MY BRAIN, JAMES. However, I don't know if Maisie's story is worth all the work you have to put out to understand WTF is going on half the time.

But The Portrait of a Lady is totally worth it. Go read that instead.

Two stars out of your mom. Eh, maybe three. Two and a half?


  1. I read this earlier in the summer, and I was 3/4 of the way through when I suddenly realized that I'd read it before. That might make me sound like a really bad reader, but I think it actually speaks to the forgettable-ness of the story. I've realized I've read a book before in the first chapter, but never when I'm so near the ending. It was a strange experience...

    I think your initial rating of two stars was fair.

  2. I've never read Henry James, maybe I'll try The Portrait of a Lady.

  3. Love this line: "Like always, James is insightful in a way that makes you bat yourself around the ears and yell GET AWAY FROM MY BRAIN, JAMES." So very true..

  4. Agree 100% with the "GET AWAY FROM MY BRAIN, JAMES." I may give THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY a try... James has spent 10+ years in the doghouse following a traumatic experience in a University lit class - maybe time to let him out.

  5. I loved Portrait of a Lady the first time I read it, and thought I identified with the heroine. A few years ago I tried reading it again and was horrified I ever felt that way! I didn't like Maisie either, but I did like The Wings of the Dove.

  6. I'm reading PORTRAIT OF A LADY for my boook club in a few months. Very glad to hear your recommend it. I haven't read any James yet, other than TURN OF THE SCREW.

  7. Oh I totally agree, I reviewed this one earlier this year on my largely sad and neglected book blog -

    On the whole it was a book that made me think WTF. It was cool to read your review :)