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I really enjoy Henry James, and this book was no exception. It is a portrait, perhaps one of the earlier, of a character encountered in a number of books (e.g., Sinclair Lewis' Dodsworth): the intelligent, successful, open and likeable American who goes out to see the (old) world and who is somehow completely blind to European social structure and conventions. In some aspects he is naive, but he is not stupid or inexperienced; he is simply unable to grasp the way members of a class-based society perceive humanity. And above all, he is genuinely likeable. I was also somewhat surprised to find that this book was written in 1877 -- to me, it really felt like an early-20th century novel, though I can't explain the precise reason. It wasn't the greatest piece of literature I've ever read, but it was very nice.
As for the narrator: it's really hard to rate him. On the one hand, he has a very warm, pleasant, clear voice, and he has a touch of that slightly outdated American accent which is perfect for the character and the narrator. He makes no attempt at characterizations, which I thought was fine -- I never felt confused as to the identity of the speaker. But the major problem with him is that he simply doesn't know any language other than American. Most of the story takes part in France, and there are quite a few French characters and expressions. For all of these, the narrator sounds like a caricature of an American mispronouncing French. He even mispronounces French expressions that are used in English, such as "coup d'etat" (he pronounces the final t). And the only character he tries to supply with an accent -- an elderly English woman -- sounds more or less like Dick Van Dyke's hilarious mock-Cockney accent in "Mary Poppins". It really sounded as if the main character was reading the novel. And just like the main character, the narrator has such a pleasant and earnest voice that it was hard to "blame" him for this shortcoming -- that's just the way he is.
All in all, an enjoyable if slightly confusing experience.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?
I do not thing I would recommend this book, unless I knew that friend was looking specifically for something of this period and style. I had a rather trying time with it, for many reasons. I stuck with it (I never like to leave a book unfinished), though the first hour was so slow and dry that it took me a week to get through, and I wasn't sure I could continue. Eventually, though, the plot caught more of my attention, and picked up pace a bit. By midway through, I was wholly invested in rooting for characters like Newman and la Comptess, but constantly had to vent my frustrations with her family by sharing their doings with my boyfriend, who listened patiently and sympathized. I called one or two turns of events as the climax loomed, but am vexed with the denouement. Not unrealistic, in fact probably the truest of realistic outcomes, but so disappointing my hopes. I must be too used to my novels and happy endings. Good book still, I just so wish it had turned out differently.
If you’ve listened to books by Henry James before, how does this one compare?
This was my first Henry James book, and I have not yet decided read another of his works, but I may try again if the narrator is better.
How did the narrator detract from the book?
In a nutshell, I didn't like his voice. It had an odd twang sometimes, and his short 'a' sounds were odd sounding. To the point of my absolute distraction. Also I didn't think he did justice to the female characters. Ultimately, I rated it only two stars because it wasn't the worst I've ever heard (he was at least narrating, not just reading aloud), but I believe a good narrator should be heard but not listened too, and I was constantly listening to his diction.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful