"What was clear to any spectator was that the only link binding her to either parent was this lamentable fact of her being a ready vessel for bitterness, a deep little porcelain cup in which biting acids could be mixed. They had wanted her not for any good they could do her, but for the harm they could, with her unconscious aid, do each other."
Before I tell you all about What Maisie Knew, I have to tell you What Laura Knew- namely that a movie version is coming out in August (a mere month away!) starring the rather dashing Alexander Skarsgard (and there are probably some other people in it too, I don't know) that I've known I wanted to see for about a year. So, when Penguin did one of their 50% off sale things at Christmastime last year, I snapped up a copy of What Maisie Knew and intended to read it straight away.
Six months later, I finally picked it up, and now I have read it! *Pauses for applause* And a whole month before the movie comes out, too. I'm calling that a win! I've read some Henry James before (The Europeans, The Turn of the Screw) and I liked them fine, but both of those are shorter than What Maisie Knew, so I didn't really know what to expect. Actually, that's not true- I thought I did know what to expect, but what I got was something else entirely and it maybe wasn't as... Good as I thought it was going to be.
Ok, here's what I'm really dancing around- I don't really like James's writing style. His sentences are never ending and sometimes seem to have overused the Thesaurus function in Word (just like 'Baby Kangaroo' Tribbiani*) even if Word didn't exist until about 100 years after Maisie was written. I could feel myself rushing through sentences and paragraphs because there were just. So many. Unecessary words. I don't like to rush through books in such a way so DAMMIT JAMES, no. And I don't know if this is just a personal 'Laura can't read big words' thing, or if this is a legitimate criticism of James's work, but if it's how I feel then it IS legitimate so there.
Let's put the actual writing aside for juuuust a minute, because there were things about the book that I actually did like. I liked how modern the story felt- parents getting divorced and using their child as ammunition feels like something that maybe didn't happen so much in 1897, but I'm willing to bet it happens a lot more now OR, at least, there are more opportunities for it to happen now. I also liked (and this is kind of the selling point of the whole selling point of the book) how the story is told through Maisie's eyes, which doesn't mean we get a childlike rendition of events, but more that 'What Maisie Knew' is ALL we know. It's clear that many, many things are happening when she's not there, but it's pretty much up to the reader to decide on the exact nature of said things, which means you keep thinking beyond the lines of the narrative. Which I like. Obviously.
And then, there's Sir Claude. Can we just pause for a moment and appreciate this description of him:
"She felt the moment she looked at him that he was by far the most radiant person with whom she had yet been concerned."
Oh, RADIANT, you say?
Ok, bad example. But YES Sir Claude's modern equivalent is Skarsgard and it seems sooort of like perfect casting. But anyway- I don't love Sir Claude because of his radiance OR the fact that I pictured him as tall, blonde and hot as fuck, but because, of all the adults in Maisie's life, he seems to be the one who is best for her, and who does the most for her. And this doesn't mean that he denies all his own urges for Maisie's sake (because he doesn't) but just that he loves her the best/at all, and that's really what she needs. And, as her stepfather, he's not even obligated to do anything for her, really, and yet he still manages to give her more positive attention than her mother and father combined.
We shan't talk about the part where he sort of takes her to France without her parents' permission because I'm sure that was way less classified as kidnapping 100+ years ago. And besides, I don't think her parents cared where she was...
Ahem. But anyway, Maisie and Sir Claude really seem like two good eggs (well- it remains to be seen even by the end of the book whether or not Maisie has been ruined by her parents' shenanigans, and I'm inclined to think she might have been...) in a sea of selfish and/or hateful characters. Even the nannies Maisie has with her respective parents are locked in a ridiculous feud that seems to only increase the damage to Maisie, and is just another reason that Sir Claude seems to be the best for her. Plus, there's his damn radiance, and everything...
Aside: On how excited I am for the movie- I'm really excited. And NO, not just for Skarsgard, you perverts. Nope, when I was reading, I was excited because I could see exactly how this could be adapted for a modern situation, mostly because it's already a modern situation, and kind of fits today's time better than its own. And I know that I potentially love a lot of the changes the film has made- like how Maisie's parents are both people with Big Careers, which is why they hardly ever see her, and how Sir Claude (who, we assume, marries Maisie's mother for her money) is a bartender who her mother pays to look after her and HEY see how that works? Also, he's still radiant. So there's that.
So. There's no ignoring the fact that I don't like James's style *nervously eyes The Portrait of a Lady and The Bostonians and why do I have so many books by Henry James, again?* BUT in this case I'm willing to overlook that because I do really like the story that I had to speed read to get through. If a different writer had been involved, I might have LOVED it, but they weren't so I'll take what I can get. Maybe most importantly, it's gotten me all excited for the movie, which was my main reason for reading it in the first place and I can't really ask for anything more than that, can I?
*Don't even TELL me that you don't come here to read Henry James being compared with Friends because I KNOW YOU DO