21 January 2011
Book Review: The Spoils of Poynton by Henry James
It isn't often (ever?) that I post bad book reviews. Well, that isn't true, many of my book reviews are bad...but it isn't often I post a review of a bad book. (ha) And I might be overstating the case to say that The Spoils of Poynton is a bad book. No doubt it is chock full of redeeming value that I am too dense, or was too bored and confused to understand.
The gist of the story is that mother doesn't like son's choice of fiancee. Mom is afraid the vulgar young thing won't properly venerate the art and collectibles that she (the mom) has spent her adult life collecting. Mom steals everything and puts it in her dowager house. Mom enlists young woman of limited means to help split them up. Young woman is too principled to do so despite falling in love with son who also seems to fall in love with her. Son ends up marrying fiancee who he now seems to hate, once mom returns all items. House full of returned treasure burns to the ground.
I assume that somewhere in this tale about a worshipful, singular, fixation on material goods there is a moral, but Henry James' use of language is so convoluted at times that I was never more than 80% sure I knew what was going on. There were times while reading this when I felt like reading Shakespeare would have been less taxing and far more rewarding.
Still, I give it a 5 (out of 10) on my rating scale which equals "ambivalent" because there was some pleasure in the formal Victorian details. I plan to read more Henry James. He wrote too much to ignore. And I didn't hate Washington Square or Portrait of a Lady.
I bought this book for the Penguin cover. And it was only 50 cents.