After a weekend of speed-reading and (yes, I'll admit it) some skimming, I finished The Ambassadors
in time for the book club meeting on Sunday night. And, my god, was I glad to be done with it! That makes it sound like the book was terrible, and I don't think it was, but by the time I got to the end it had dragged on so long that it was impossible for me to get any sort of enjoyment from it. I'm sure it didn't help that I had a very hard time connecting to the story. The entire plot revolved around intricate social strategies that I found difficult to understand. It was quite clear that every character had an agenda and that everything they said and did was an attempt to further that agenda, but Henry James never made clear what any of the agendas were. Also, James's style, I couldn't help but notice, was a peculiar one in that he appeared incapable, or perhaps just unwilling, of ever finishing a sentence, or, in some cases, even a clause, without interrupting himself so many times that all, or nearly all, of the book read like this tortured sentence. Navigating my way through hundreds of pages of such mazy prose was exhausting, to say the least. I'm curious as to how The Ambassadors
compares to some of James's earlier, better known work -- stuff like The Wings of the Dove
or Daisy Miller
. I'd be willing to pick up more James some day, but not for quite a while.
So, as I mentioned, I went to the book club meeting on Sunday, and I was the only one who went! Well, besides the woman who was hosting it, of course. So I sat around and talked books in a general way with her and her boyfriend (who seems to be a well-read and interesting guy--I wish he'd join the club), ate the dessert that I brought, and talked a little bit about The Ambassadors
. I was relieved to learn that she had exactly the same problems with The Ambassadors
that I did, because I was beginning to wonder if I was just a moron and that was why I couldn't figure out all of the oblique social intrigue. It ended up being a nice time despite the poor turnout, and we're going to try advertising for some new members just to see if we can't breathe some new life into the club. Also, for those of you interested in my French dessert quandary, I ended up making an orange-cranberry gateau with orange glaze. It's not terribly French, except for the word 'gateau' in the title, but that was enough for me. I figured I could justify the inclusion of the oh-so-American cranberries by saying that the book is about Americans in Paris, so it's only fitting that I have an American ingredient in my French cake.
I got home from the meeting very eager to read something that wasn't Henry James, so I picked up the least James-like thing I had in the house: The Commitment
by Dan Savage. And it's just what I was looking for. Light, funny, and very quick -- I'm half done with it already.
I've got just one last, book-related note. 39orangestreet
pointed me in the direction of this interesting site, and now I share it with all of you: Debbie's Idea
. It's a website for people who are trying to decide which book to start with when exploring an unfamiliar author. The interesting thing about it is that all the information about the authors is provided by the users of the site. You can add your favorite authors, submit bios, comment on their books... It appears that the site is fairly new, so there's lots of information still to be added. It has the potential to be an excellent procrastination tool, for those so inclined...