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Henry James' Beast in the Jungle is surely not for everyone, there is little action in the novella (I suppose that is the point actually) and the title could give readers the wrong idea. John Marcher, the protagonist, is reacquainted with May Bartram, a woman he knew ten years earlier, who remembers his odd secret- Marcher is seized with the belief that his life is to be defined by some catastrophic or spectacular event, lying in wait for him like a "beast in the jungle." May decides to take a flat nearby in London, and to spend her days with Marcher curiously awaiting what fate has in stall for John. Of course Marcher is a self-centered egoist, believing that he is precluded from marrying so that he does not subject his wife to his "spectacular fate". So he takes May to the theatre and invites her to an occasional dinner, while not allowing her to really get close to him for her own sake. As he sits idly by and allows the best years of his life to pass, he takes May down as well, until the denouement wherein he learns that the great misfortune of his life was to throw it away, and to ignore the love of a good woman, based upon his preposterous sense of foreboding. James' language can be a bit stilted at times, and some of the dialogue may strike modern readers as out-dated. However James was a master of the novella format, and with The Beast in the Jungle he has written an engrossing psychological drama, which left me speechless at the very end. Pick up a collection that also includes The Turn of the Screw and Daisy Miller if you haven't already read them, they are accessible (more so than some of James' full length novels) and great examples of the format's potential.
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