Mrs Osmond by John Banville

Mrs Osmond

A rich historical novel about the aftermath of betrayal, from the Booker prize-winning author. What was freedom, she thought, other than the right to exercise one's choices?Isabel Osmond, a spirited, intelligent young heiress, flees to London after being betrayed by her husband, to be with her beloved cousin Ralph on his deathbed. After a somber, silent existence at her hu...

Title:Mrs Osmond
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Edition Language:English

Mrs Osmond Reviews

  • Jenny

    I gave up on John Banville years ago. He seemed to be writing the same novel, over and over again; I haven't picked up a new book by him in a decade. This new novel intrigued me enough to try him again. (Thank you to Edelweiss and Knopf for the ARC).

    The word that best comes to mind in reviewing this book is; ambitious. I never expected to find myself describing a Banville novel as ambitious, but there it is. This is a good book. No, this is a great book. Banville takes a beloved literary classic

    I gave up on John Banville years ago. He seemed to be writing the same novel, over and over again; I haven't picked up a new book by him in a decade. This new novel intrigued me enough to try him again. (Thank you to Edelweiss and Knopf for the ARC).

    The word that best comes to mind in reviewing this book is; ambitious. I never expected to find myself describing a Banville novel as ambitious, but there it is. This is a good book. No, this is a great book. Banville takes a beloved literary classic, Portrait of a Lady, and creates a sequel that feels so authentic to the original that it seems like he is channeling Henry James at times. Isabel Osmond (nee Archer) was a complicated and fascinating character in the original novel. Here, we see her dealing with the immediate aftermath of the conclusory events in the original novel. As she navigates her new path, Banville's vision of her stays so true to the character readers have loved for generations!

    I'm a casual reviewer. I imagine critics will wet themselves over this book. I'm already picturing it, at the very least, making the Booker longlist in 2018.

  • Ted Farrell

    I read John Banville's book, 'The Sea' a few months ago. I found it absorbing and very moving and was looking forward to 'Mrs Osmond'. What a disappointment! Despite the same elegant prose, I found it frankly boring. I forced myself to finish it. It's too long, conversations are interspersed with tedious passages describing the innermost thoughts of the speakers. Some of the lesser characters in the story appear briefly, only to reappear somewhat unexpectedly and for not much apparent reason. Th

    I read John Banville's book, 'The Sea' a few months ago. I found it absorbing and very moving and was looking forward to 'Mrs Osmond'. What a disappointment! Despite the same elegant prose, I found it frankly boring. I forced myself to finish it. It's too long, conversations are interspersed with tedious passages describing the innermost thoughts of the speakers. Some of the lesser characters in the story appear briefly, only to reappear somewhat unexpectedly and for not much apparent reason. The plot is pretty thin, but has a few ridiculous twists, as if the author, conscious that it needed some beefing up, decided to add a few eye-catching turns to the story.

  • Roman Clodia

    John Banville returning to Henry James' The Portrait of a Lady seems like an ideal match - the result, though, is more puzzling, less satisfying that I expected.

    Firstly, Banville's style never matches the cool elegance and precision of James, and there are jarring colloquialisms that ensure we're only partially in James' territory: 'Even yet she felt, did Mrs Osmond' or 'Staines' devotion to her mistress had not wavered a jot'. The very presence of named servants and detailed menus (at one poin

    John Banville returning to Henry James' The Portrait of a Lady seems like an ideal match - the result, though, is more puzzling, less satisfying that I expected.

    Firstly, Banville's style never matches the cool elegance and precision of James, and there are jarring colloquialisms that ensure we're only partially in James' territory: 'Even yet she felt, did Mrs Osmond' or 'Staines' devotion to her mistress had not wavered a jot'. The very presence of named servants and detailed menus (at one point Isabel nibbles at a slice of toast) is profoundly unJamesian and it's not completely clear whether the former is drawing attention to the class-ridden assumptions of the original, making the invisible servants visible.

    More pressingly, the characters are *not* James': they become exaggerated and almost one-dimensional - evil Osmond, foolish and vengeful Mme Gemini, a newly-corrupt Pansy (and the nature that her 'corruption' takes is strangely anachronistic). Even Isabel herself is diminished, reduced to being a woman both self-forgiving and looking for revenge. The wonderfully dense and complicated characterisations and moral debates of the original, especially issues about decisions and consequences, are erased, and this is a far simpler tale. The introduction of a suffragette feels too pointed and the plot-point about Isabel leaving her briefcase of money lying around is just absurd.

    There are long discussions which have characters telling each other what already happened in the original text and these sections feel almost like a crib for anyone who didn't 'get' what happened - almost a kind of SparksNotes for GCSE!

    For all my criticisms, there is a sense of Banville re-opening in 2017 a book which was written in the 1880s - questions of money, morality, gender and marriage are still troublesome and deserving of writers' attentions. Overall, though, I felt that James' prior text stultifies rather than feeds Banville's imagination. An interesting project but not one which worked overwell for me.

    Thanks to Penguin for an ARC via NetGalley.

  • Eleanor

    Completely brilliant. Banville's technical skill in the language he chooses, and his command thereof, is never less than astonishing. It's not necessary to have read The Portrait of a Lady before this, though I certainly will do now, and suspect I'll find that Banville's reimagining of Isabel Archer illuminates the original.

  • Sue

    With thanks to Penguin UK Viking via NetGalley for the opportunity to read this book.

    It is 40 years since I read ‘A Portrait of a Lady’ as a student and I remembered little of it apart from the basic plot. It was a delight to me to revisit it in the first part of this sequel by John Banville, mostly through Isabel’s memories and conversations with friends, though I appreciate that others more familiar with Henry James’ novel may think there is too much rehashing of the original before we move o

    With thanks to Penguin UK Viking via NetGalley for the opportunity to read this book.

    It is 40 years since I read ‘A Portrait of a Lady’ as a student and I remembered little of it apart from the basic plot. It was a delight to me to revisit it in the first part of this sequel by John Banville, mostly through Isabel’s memories and conversations with friends, though I appreciate that others more familiar with Henry James’ novel may think there is too much rehashing of the original before we move on to Isabel’s next moves. Once I settled into the wordy style of writing, I was hooked. I was interested from beginning to end to see how Isabel would cope with the events that led her to leave her husband and her home in Italy.

    Gorgeous images - a few examples:

    ‘That he had it in his power to fund her fearless ascent of the sheer rock-face of her - of his! - ambitions must have seemed to him the justification, the compensation, for his having to bide below, in the shadowed valley, while she scaled the radiant heights. And what a drab disappointment it must have been for him that instead of pressing onwards to the peak she had lost her footing and plunged headlong down the sheer cliff….’

    ‘What she saw was that it had not been Osmond she had fallen in love with, when she was young, but herself, through him. That was why he was no more to her now than a mirror, from the back of which so much of the paint had flaked and fallen away that it afforded only fragments of a reflection, indistinct and disjointed.’

    ‘He still had that strange appearance of being somehow reduced, yet the effect seemed to her now not one of diminishment, but rather of concentration, as if he had drawn the belts and buckles of his armour tight the better to do battle with her.’

    So you can see I loved the writing. I also very much enjoyed the way the action unfolded, with one exception - I hated what the author did with Pansy and since that comes near the end of the novel it slightly soured my whole experience.

  • Always Pink

    First of all, I have to admit that I have not (as yet) read Henry James' "Portrait of a Lady". Thus I cannot compare John Banville's style - unfavourably - to that of his predecessor, as most critics seem to do. What I can say, though, is that Banville succeeds in (re)creating a modern version of a kind of writing that I feared to be lost: Feathery weightless and wonderfully elegant descriptions; sharp and witty dialogues; interspersed with short penetrating observations dissecting human frailti

    First of all, I have to admit that I have not (as yet) read Henry James' "Portrait of a Lady". Thus I cannot compare John Banville's style - unfavourably - to that of his predecessor, as most critics seem to do. What I can say, though, is that Banville succeeds in (re)creating a modern version of a kind of writing that I feared to be lost: Feathery weightless and wonderfully elegant descriptions; sharp and witty dialogues; interspersed with short penetrating observations dissecting human frailties – all this Banville delivers seemingly effortlessly. The deliberately and in the best sense entertaining, playful proof of the sheer mastery of his writing reminded me a lot of Virginia Woolf's "Flush" and E.M. Forster's "A Room with a View" (probably also due to the perhaps not accidentally shared Florentine setting). I found this delicious 'sponge cake' of a novel to be perfectly well executed indeed and would love to read another sequel, as its open ending might give hope for.

  • Mandy

    I don’t enjoy reading either Henry James or John Banville so it seemed unlikely that reading Banville’s sequel to James’ The Portrait of a Lady would do it for me. But much to my surprise it did – up to a point. I really enjoyed most of the book. Banville managed to channel James in a way that seemed true to both of them and it was interesting to enter into Banville’s imaginative foray into “what happened next” after Isabel Archer discovered her husband had been deceiving her with her close frie

    I don’t enjoy reading either Henry James or John Banville so it seemed unlikely that reading Banville’s sequel to James’ The Portrait of a Lady would do it for me. But much to my surprise it did – up to a point. I really enjoyed most of the book. Banville managed to channel James in a way that seemed true to both of them and it was interesting to enter into Banville’s imaginative foray into “what happened next” after Isabel Archer discovered her husband had been deceiving her with her close friend Madame Merle. However, Banville lost control, I felt, in the latter part of the book. Apart from some anachronisms, particularly to do with Isabel's fortune, revelations about Osmond’s sheer nastiness (he sort of becomes a stage villain) and the more than unlikely revelation about Pansy’s personality, which apart from anything else was quite unnecessary and is probably making James turn in his grave, turned what had been until then a measured and quite convincing novel of social mores with some deft characterisations into a gothic pantomime with some very unconvincing plot twists. Started well, but ended badly.

  • Caren

    Thoroughly enjoyable to be swept into Banville's "sequel" to Henry James' Portrait of a Lady. The 19th century style, fluency, and eye for meticulous detail, kept me engaged in the story of Isabel Archer's response to her betrayal in Rome. Only the ending disappointed me, seeming contrived and implausible. But, it was refreshing to once again be in a singly narrated, English novel of a time, thankfully past for women (well, almost), and to cheer on this resilient character.

  • Leah

    At the time that I requested this from NetGalley there were no reviews, and there is nothing in the blurb to indicate that it's actually a follow-on novel to Henry James'

    . Had I known that, I wouldn't have taken the book, since I haven't read the James novel.

    Having read 25% of this one, I find I'm entirely detached and disinterested, the stream of characters being mentioned (but mostly not met with) meaning nothing to me. Is the writing a good or bad take on James'? How wo

    At the time that I requested this from NetGalley there were no reviews, and there is nothing in the blurb to indicate that it's actually a follow-on novel to Henry James'

    . Had I known that, I wouldn't have taken the book, since I haven't read the James novel.

    Having read 25% of this one, I find I'm entirely detached and disinterested, the stream of characters being mentioned (but mostly not met with) meaning nothing to me. Is the writing a good or bad take on James'? How would I know? It reads to me like a rather stodgy version of Virginia Woolf, so if that sounds like a good description of James' style then I guess he's doing it well.

    It's pretty well-written, stylised and as I say a touch stodgy, and there is depth in the main character of Mrs Osmond. It gives a decent picture of the restrictions society still set on upper-class women in the late 19th century*. But I feel that not having read the book it's based on is leaving me frustrated and rather peeved - it seems like an important omission from the blurb, presumably because the publishers didn't want to limit purchasers only to fans of the earlier book. A mistake or worse - a misrepresentation, perhaps.

    I may one day read

    (although this one has given so many spoilers for that one I now wonder whether there would be any point); and then I may also return to this one. But my strong recommendation would be, don't try to read this without having read the James novel first. Abandoned at 25% and not rated.

  • Tony

    MRS. OSMOND. (2017). John Banville. **.

    Banville is one of the best writers working today. That being said, there’s always a chance of a less than spectacular book resulting from even the best of authors. This is one of those books where nothing seems to happen. I have a personal criterion: If nothing happens within the first fifty pages, nothing is going to happen, and the experience is terminated. With a writer of Banville’s stature, I had to provide some more wiggle room, so I read up to page

    MRS. OSMOND. (2017). John Banville. **.

    Banville is one of the best writers working today. That being said, there’s always a chance of a less than spectacular book resulting from even the best of authors. This is one of those books where nothing seems to happen. I have a personal criterion: If nothing happens within the first fifty pages, nothing is going to happen, and the experience is terminated. With a writer of Banville’s stature, I had to provide some more wiggle room, so I read up to page sixty. Nothing happened. It’s likely that this happened because his latest book was a proposed sequel to Henry James’ novel, “The Portrait of a Lady.” James was never one of my favorite writers. He had the ability to put even the most hyperactive readers asleep. Honest. If this novel was Banville’s attempt to emulate James’ style, I think he did it pretty well. Anyway, if you asked me what happened on page sixty-one, I’d probably have to say, “Nothing.”

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