August 16, 2015

The Fifth Heart




I can't delay leaving tomorrow, thought James. If I stay, I'll never see the end of these conspiracies or complications. ... I've been caught up in one of the romantic-adventure novels I so despise... — and the only way I can escape is to walk away from everything I've seen and heard today, everything I've seen and heard the last few weeks since the Seine. That way lies reality. Or at least literature.

This book wins, hands-down, my award for the very best not-very-good book of the year.

I think I probably squealed out loud when I first heard (wherever that was) that someone had written a novel connecting Henry James and Clover Adams.  I love reading about Henry (as you probably know) and I've been fascinated by Clover Adams ever since I first read about her in college. {We were reading The Education of Henry Adams in a literature seminar and reading her story was much more interesting ...}

The meandering, overfilled, at times downright silly plot has two major lines:  an investigation into whether Clover's death was a murder, not a suicide, and an effort to foil a plot to kill world leaders across the globe, beginning with President Grover Cleveland, who is in Chicago to open the  Chicago World's Fair in 1893.  The twist is that the book opens as Henry, approaching his dreaded 50th birthday and in despair over his lack of literary success, travels to Paris to throw himself into the Seine, and is rescued by Sherlock Holmes, who draws our Henry into both stories. And Dan Simmons let Henry climb out onto some rafters in an abandoned chicken-plucking factory to spy on a meeting of the anarchist plotters, which counts for a lot.

I listened to this off and on for a month and I lost the plot a few times along the way... and by the epilogue, as Henry is finally sailing back to England, I wanted to say 'enough already!'  I do think this would have been a better book if it had been shorter and more restrained in its name-dropping and historical-detail dropping, but then it wouldn't have been as much fun. It sent me running to the Internet to see what the White City {temporarily erected for the fair} looked like, and to the library for a book of Henry's short stories so I could read one that was mentioned in a tangent.  Definitely a guilty pleasure, but with Henry, Clover and a couple of tangents, I was very happy to spend time with it.


1 comment:

Lisa said...

I just started reading The Education of Henry Adams last night. I happened to find a copy of it and Mont Saint Michel and Chartres, after reading one of your posts. I knew a little about him, but nothing about Clover. I think I will skip this book though. Including Sherlock Holmes as a character would be a bit much for me.