Wednesday 13 April 2016

Book Review: The Wings of the Dove by Henry James

Title: The Wings of the Dove
Author: Henry James
Publisher: Wordsworth Classics
Publication Date: 2009 (1901) 
Pages: 431
Format: Paperback
Genre: Classic
Source: Bought Copy

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The Wings of the Dove is a tale of desire and possession, of love and death. It is in essence a simple story, but one that opens up the great subject of art: life itself. To tackle this, James moves between fairytale storylines and the startlingly modern techniques of his testing late style. An unspeakable subtext lies beneath the silence. Distinct points of view and different centres of consciousness betray the dislocation of the social facade from the desolation beneath. For all the familiar signs, there is a gulf between glamour and the underlying threat of loss.

The eternal triangle of romance is played out here like a game on an international stage for the very highest stakes. It centres on 'the dying girl who wants to live - to live and love.' But those closest to her are in competition for what she can leave behind. Milly Theale, 'the heiress of all the ages', is imaged as a dove, a princess, a Renaissance beauty, but these symbols come at a dreadful cost. By the end of the novel we know, 'We shall never be again as we were!'
(Goodreads Synopsis)

Wings of the Dove, like most Henry James novels is both delightful and infuriating. It's delightful because the story and characters are wonderful, but infuriating because James' prose must be gone through with a fine-toothed comb. It's been a while since I last picked up one of his works and I'd forgotten about all those commas!

If you're deciding whether to read James' works, I can assure you they are worth the effort; however, it is an effort, as a definite dedication is required. This (and his other works) is not a book you can skim-read for ten minutes at a time and then set aside.

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