I've been reading Henry James' The Golden Bowl for the past couple of days and still haven't made it past the first hundred pages or so. I'm a pretty fast reader as a rule, its just that James is a lot to digest. I read The Portrait Of a Lady about six years ago and it was only my stolid determination never to leave a book unfinished that made me complete it. Standing in the bookstore last week, I thought perhaps he deserved another chance, I was after all too young then to truly appreciate what I was reading.
But as I read it now, I can fully sympathize with myself at thirteen. He has this extremely wordy, highly descriptive style that for my practical mind is somewhat hard to stomach. He uses what seem to me highly incongruous metaphors, all the time. For almost any other writer, it would seem like affectation, but somehow with James, it only seems like eccentricity.
In the past hundred pages, the story has progressed, but only marginally so. The characters have been described in tremendous detail, but in such a strange way that they don't seem familiar at all. I cannot really judge their actions yet, or decide whether what they say is true to their character. The dialogue too is extremely clever, but ordinary people simply don't talk that way. It is a pleasure to read but only, at least for me, in small doses. Perhaps as I slowly plough my way through this book, I will find some underlying allegory, some thread at which if I pull, the whole maze will unravel.