Monday, August 29, 2011

Book 18-The Ambassadors

I thought I liked this book, but by the end I decided I didn't. Book 18 was The Amabassadors by Henry James. It follows Lambert Strether as he journeys to Paris to rescue his wealthy fiance's son from a supposed liason with an unsavory women. When Strether arrives in Paris he is overwhelmed by the beauty and the character of its citizens. Hailing from Woollet, Massachuesetts where things are decidedly more repressed, he loses himself to experiencing life for the first time.

I liked the theme which was about living life to the fullest and getting everything you possibly can out of it, but by the end I decided that the book came off as a bit pretentious. Here's a quote about the theme of life:

"It doesn't so much matter what you do in particular, so long as you have had your life. If you haven't had that, what HAVE you had?"

This book was apparently inspired in Henry James by overhearing someone say somthing very similar at a garden party. I like that idea, but what I didn't like was the vague references by Strether's guide to Paris of something deep that only they got. I understood that they saw beauty, life, happiness, that they communicated beyond the formal ways of being in Woollet but after hearing so many vague references to it by the end I wanted to shake the characters and say, "oh shut up!!!" Take this for example:

"That means simply that you've recognized me--which is rather beautiful and rare. You see what I am"

"To be as good as you and me, but different"

This is one quote that I do like and if the book, hadn't driven the point home so many times I may enjoyed the book.

"What I've seen so often spoiled' she pursued, 'is the happy attitude of faith and what shall I call it? The sense of beauty".

Lambert Strether doesn't go crazy with freedom away from his fiance, who controls his entire life having all the money, but in the end it is hinted that he may have lost even her by experiencing real life.

"I don't get drunk, I don't pursue the ladies, I don't spend money I don't even write sonnets. But nevertheless I am making up late for what I didnt' have early."

In Strether's mind (and I will give him this point) it was worth it to throw everything away to just experience life in its rawest form. I agree with him there, because I do think that life is meant to be lived. People who are fully alive inspire a great sense of joy and awe in me and make me happy and calm, just as they did to Strether. I am hopeful however that I don't come across as too selfish or silly, because, in the end, I think I found everything that Strether did to be a tad bit too selfish. His enjoyment of life wasn't something that could be maintained, and was only a bit of an escape from reality. People who can find joy with or with out money, with or without comfort, with or without the inspiring sights of Paris are the ones who really experience life.

The next book I am working on his Book 19-One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. So far I am enjoying it as a story, but not much more than that.

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