Ellan Read

sometimes witty book reviews

What Maisie Knew

Mr and Mrs Farange are given six-months-about custody of their child as a result of their scandalous, pre-1900 divorce. At first their little daughter Maisie is pulled from one parent to another the instant six months is up. Soon though Maisie is foisted upon each divorcee by the other as an inconvenience.

Meanwhile, her father marries Maisie’s governess, her mother marries a member of the gentry and a second, elderly governess falls in love with the self-same gentleman. Maisie learns quickly to stay silent and listen hard.

Pages fly by as one accompanies poor Maisie through the nurseries, cafés and parks that make up her little life. Eventually Maisie is torn between the attentions of her real parents, two step parents and the elderly governess’s. Maisie is blamed, taunted, spoilt, laughed over and teased for merely existing as she unwittingly holds five love-tortured adults together. The final chapters are a stimulating serve and volley of love and allegiance which leaves Maisie with a heart wrenching decision.

First published in 1897, this intriguing tale of divorce, love and childhood felt to me like reading a sequel to A Room with a View. James’ style, though far more thorough and less flippant than E.M. Forster’s View, is similarly engaging and enjoyable throughout. James is remarkably empathetic to his tiny protagonist; cleverly opening a secret window into an era rocked with social change.

There will we an urges to gasp melodramatically as you read this – do not fight it.

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This entry was posted on January 14, 2015 by in Classics, Fiction, USA and tagged , , , , , , .
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