I confess

Nottingham Evening Post, "Classic of the Week", November 6 2004

Washington Square, by Henry James, Penguin, £3.99

If you hear about Henry James without reading him, the impression is terrifying: sentences like long garden paths (he walked one, the rumour goes, while composing) and a disdain for indelicate readers that would keep anyone born since 1900 away. A friend gave me the cure two years ago: Washington Square. It's a short novel, perfectly balanced in the way a knife might be perfectly balanced, with a simple set-up. The heroine is a plain, achingly good heiress called Catherine Sloper; she considers eloping with a possible fortune-hunter. In the way stand her doubts and her cold-eyed father. The virtues you are told to expect - the sensitivity, the artfulness - are there; the fog you fear is not. I look forward to reporting back on the rest of James in another couple of decades.