Earlier this year, as part of my effort to read all of William Gass’s “Fifty Literary Pillars” (I’m over half way through it), I read Henry James’s The Golden Bowl. This complex novel, which acutely renders the verities of marriage and the duplicities of adultery, is full of breathtaking, not to mention quietly intimidating, syntactical convolutions, and it inspired me to follow through on a plan to read all of James’s novels, next year. This past week-and-a-half I decided to get a headstart, and thus plowed through the first three novels, Watch and Ward, Roderick Hudson, and The American; and by “plowing” I mean to conjure the image of a farmer slowly using an iron-beam walking plow to furrow the earth, turning back, himself, every so often, to drop a seed into the ground, using his foot to loosely cover up the seeds again. While none of these novels comes close to the infectious complexity, the architectural quality of The Golden Bowl, a late novel in the James canon, I’m continually impressed with James’s style in these early novels, with his robust descriptions, his erudition, his leaving-no-stone-uncovered examinations of intentions, his perspicacious attention to detail. What I’m describing about James is hardly new, and this lavish praise will perhaps do little to convince anyone to drop that ridiculously anemic novella written by the latest hipster writer, or the bloated and beached whale from the latest pretender, but perhaps it will encourage those readers out there who have long been enamored of James to share some thoughts about him, here.
That said, I think I’m going to detour from my project, for the moment, to read Frost, Thomas Bernhard’s debut novel, whose narrator, ironically enough, is in the middle of reading a novel by Henry James.