Although I have recently enjoyed a dozen novels by Henry James, The Awkward Age has just about defeated me. The novel initially revolves around Mr Longdon's nostalgia for Nanda's grandmother Julia, but towards the end her importance fades as a subtle interplay occurs between Nanda, Mitchy and Vanderburg that seems less than clear. From the first, the dialogue soars to heights of ironic complexity way beyond even the three major novels which follow. Several conversations between Mrs Brookenham and the young men, peppered with ironic small talk, border on the incomprehensible. Moreover, I struggle to see the comic in The Awkward Age in the face of so much overt tragedy: Mitchy's unfortunate marriage, Nanda and Vanderbank's eternal estrangement, Mrs Brook's pathetic isolation, Edward Brookenham's detachment, and Mr Longdon's vision in tatters. Has anyone enjoyed or made good sense of the plot of this avant-garde novel?
Having just completed Book I (page 80), it seems to me that this is as difficult as any of the late James novels I've read. The dialogue, the social chit-chat, is going over my head as never before. Usually in the late James novels, dialogue is easier going than the narrative, but not here. My last read, What Maisie Knew, was a dream next to this. However, The Ambassadors, written a little later was also exceptionally difficult to get into. Even working out the relationship between Aggie and Nanda, who are sister and brother, and the place of all these young women is beyond me. And as for conversations between the Duchess and Mr Mitchett! Still, I have given up on a James' yet, so I'll hang in hoping.
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