Mrs. Osmond shares more than characters with its predecessor. It also shares a style: symphonic, wildly metaphorical, with nightmarish images of dead-end alleys and predatory beasts used to describe the smallest shifts of consciousness and social interaction. Like its source text, Mrs. Osmond investigates what happens when liberty runs up against those forces that would constrain it: personal history, secret plots, money, evil itself ... Mrs. Osmond is as impressive an act of stylistic channeling as anything I’ve read. Indeed, the best way to appreciate the novel is simply to list some of its many Jamesian moments — little turns of phrase that demand savoring on their own merits and send us scurrying back to the original for similar gems.
Banville’s decision to write Mrs. Osmond — a sequel to James’s The Portrait of a Lady — suggests a comfortable meeting of literary temperaments in a shared affinity for decorative language, but raises some questions as to their compatibility with regard to narrative architecture ...seizes the narrative baton from Henry James and quickly moves Isabel Osmond away from a mournful Gardencourt where, following the death of her cousin Ralph, she has allowed herself to be kissed by the suggestively virile Caspar Goodwood ...the incident-packed denouement of Mrs. Osmond cannot compensate for the stasis of much of the novel’s length, and the many passages in which Banville’s luxuriant prose feels a trifle excessive...Banville picks over the bones of The Portrait of a Lady, offering us beautifully phrased set-pieces and often exquisite minor portraiture rather than narrative energy ...goes beyond what the reader might have previously encountered in Banville’s often underplotted fiction.
Mrs. Osmond begins with the knowledge that Isabel’s marriage has been a mistake. Much of the action consists of her going here and there, meeting various characters and telling them about it. When the book’s climax finally does come, Isabel manages to extricate herself from her past in a relatively simple fashion. This has the curious effect of making one wonder if her plight in the first book was really all that dire, and whether one’s sympathy for her was misplaced. From this perspective, oddly enough, Banville’s homage reduces the object it venerates ... Stylistically, Mrs. Osmond is a triumph that contains the seeds of its own undoing. Banville’s ability to channel James’s style and prose rhythms is astonishing. I can’t imagine anyone who could have done it better. He knows the period, places and society of which he speaks ... This is the difficulty embedded within Banville’s project. There’s something fanatical about it. And no matter what, he’s in a bind. The pace of the novel isn’t exactly swift. And the more longueurs Banville provides in order to reinforce the Jamesian mood and manner, the more tedious the novel becomes. It’s easy to forgive James for keeping to a pace as ruminative and slow as the age he lived in; with Banville, it feels willful to the point of perversity. And yet, without these longueurs, there would be a reduction in fidelity to the original. It’s a no-win situation. The 'better' the book is, the worse it is.
The Irish novelist John Banville has now done what Isabel’s creator did not. He has imagined a version of her next months, in prose that echoes James’s own, and the first thing to say about Mrs. Osmond is that it seems an almost entirely plausible next installment ...book’s real triumph, however, lies in its portrait of Gilbert Osmond, in which Mr. Banville does something James avoided ...offers many such chapters, moments in which this Isabel hangs upon James’s, in which she works her mind through the plot in which the earlier novel enmeshed her ...a tribute paid by a great writer to a greater one... Nevertheless there are some scenes here — a few, but enough — when Mr. Banville drives James himself from my mind.
...Mrs. Osmond, a novel that makes a valiant imaginative leap but stumbles along the way ...Banville attempts to tie up the loose ending ... Banville chooses not to sketch her later life on such a grand scale; this sequel covers only a number of weeks, picking up after Isabel leaves the refuge of her aunt's estate in the English countryside ...Isabel as a moping schemer little resembles the lively, lovely young lady of Portrait ... The writing, in its effort to rise to a Jamesian level, can be elegant but at times overcooked...in the drama of Isabel's revenge that Banville's story shows its true strength.
In Mrs. Osmond, the Irish novelist John Banville has endeavored to answer the question that James answered only in part. This is an extension of Isabel’s story, and a convincing one at that ... The plot is in some ways borrowed from Henry James and in some ways is Banville’s own invention; even that invention, however, has as its impetus a deep familiarity with James’s novel ... Banville has a knack for devising unexpected yet thoroughly characteristic acts ... Those who have read him before will know the siren song he weaves; it doesn’t even matter if one wants to put the story aside, one simply cannot ... Banville has given us a great gift.
At times it has the glacial pace of the original, endless psychological dithering punctuated by brilliant flashes of melodrama. Even stylistically it is a perfect fit: the actual descriptions of places are rather vague, but the metaphors are devoted to extremely vivid, even over-the-top, language ...Banville’s book is faithful to James’s manner, while Tóibín’s avoids the long sentences, the placid descriptions and the hectic metaphors, the ordinary words in inverted commas ... Mrs Osmond is both a remarkable novel in its own right and a superb pastiche. But I found irritating the very mannerisms that try my patience in James.
The Man Booker Prize-winning Irish writer’s style — verbose, rich in literary effect, markedly unhurried when it comes to the unfolding of plot — has often drawn comparisons with Nabokov, and even Proust...a sequel to one of James’s best-loved novels, The Portrait of a Lady, Banville should, as it were, have picked up the baton dropped by the master ... Banville, through Isabel, does a lot of remembering in Mrs Osmond. This is, in all senses, a backward-looking novel ...at times bear a passing resemblance to that of James, but only really through Banville’s use of stereotypically (and, frankly, faintly comical) Jamesian diction ... Much of it reads, well, rather like any other novel by Banville — and in general, the less self-consciously Jamesian it is, the more enjoyable it becomes.
Banville comes up with plenty of twists, turns and sinister revelations as Isabel goes into action. At pivotal moments, he leaves you wondering if she has what it takes to get the better of those who wronged her. He also introduces new characters into her life who steer her in unforeseen directions. He has great fun approximating James’ analytical prose, with its mellifluous and sometimes convoluted cadences … Overall he pulls off his elaborate stunt with vigor and style. It’s hard to say no to a second helping of Isabel Archer, especially when she’s as full of surprises as she was in Portrait.
The Portrait of a Lady was a psychological novel, focused on its characters’ inner lives, and the same is true of Mrs. Osmond. Long conversations and introspection make up most of the plot, although Isabel occasionally does something decisive … Banville does an impeccable job of re-creating James’ prose style and moving his characters forward in believable ways. As Mrs. Osmond progresses, his wicked sense of humor emerges more, and he adds twists to the plot James would have cloaked in reticence.
...picks up Isabel’s story where it left off in Mrs. Osmond, an ambitious sequel to Portrait that expertly channels James’ distinctive ornate voice, from its maddening page-long sentences of psychological analysis to its nuanced flashes of wit and irony ...as in James, the labor is worth the reward, for Mrs. Osmond is the timeless, almost archetypal tale of a woman learning from her misfortunes and putting that hard-won wisdom to the test to overcome, or at least endure, them ... Without breaking character, and with the same distinctive ways of speaking they had in the original novel, they come together to create another story entirely ...a brilliant and beguiling novel on its own, and a reminder to us that not only does great literature endure, it engenders.
...has dared with his 18th novel, Mrs. Osmond, a risky homage and sequel to The Portrait of a Lady, to pry open additional windows in the magnificent edifice that many consider the Master’s masterpiece. His goal is not to air out the musty rooms or freshen the place with a contemporary update but to climb in...is on a different sort of marital machination: Not who will marry whom, but the many ways in which women in bad unions — including Isabel — can extricate themselves and regain their freedom ... While Banville’s many plot recaps assure that readers who haven’t read Portrait won’t be utterly lost, Mrs. Osmond feels more repetitive than fresh, particularly for those familiar with the original ... Yes, there are fewer complicated sentences to slow you down, but also fewer astonishing insights to arrest your attention ...Banville, too, has left plenty of windows open to this vivid, strong-willed heroine’s next chapters.
In this sequel, Isabel delays that confrontation for almost two months as she seeks counsel from friends and ponders her shortcomings, dead marriage, and the sort of freedom she desires ...(cliffhangers end several chapters) he uses to bring some tension to this slowly unfolding drama... Fans of Henry will find the writing persuasively Jamesian in its voice and diction, its syntax less labyrinthine. Fans of John should deem it marvelously Banville-an in its observations, humor, and insight... A sequel that honors James and his singular heroine while showing Banville to be both an uncanny mimic and, as always, a captivating writer.