Portrait of a Lady | Henry James
This is my first Goodreads review, and I had to write it only because I have not been so viscerally annoyed at a technically "well-written" book in a long time. There's no doubt that James writes beautifully. The dialogues in particular are ridiculously aphoristic and quotable. What's even more consistent than the finesse of his language, however, is the annoyingness of his characters. They are, in a word, flat; they parade around as Woolf characters while easily outdoing any Dickens characters in terms of psychological predictability.
Each character embodies something, and that thing only — patriotism, kindness, obedience, evil — yet they insist on telling each other over and over again just exactly how interesting they all are (an assertion that the narrator repeats to the reader constantly). But they simply are not. They are unoriginal, unvarying, and very often unbearable.
The only exception to the rule is Ralph Touchett, who is wasted on this novel. Do yourself a favor and pick up a Forster instead.