But, nevertheless, I do like novellas (just as I like lattes). And after one or two long books, I was looking forward to something shorter. Not quite the quick fix of a short story, but something that I could read over a weekend and feel good about.
In The Lesson of the Master, I found something that fit the bill. I’d never read any Henry James before, but he’s one of the long list of writers I felt I should at least give a try at some stage, and this short book seemed the perfect introduction.
The trick with novellas, it seems, is to pick a topic that has enough weight to deserve its own book, but perhaps not enough depth to command attention throughout an entire novel. The topic Henry James picked for this novella is the sacrifices an artist needs to make to create something perfect. He gives the theme a setting in the experiences of a promising young novelist, and an ageing one that refused to make those sacrifices.
It works well. The first two thirds of the book canter along quite gently, but they act to set up the climactic scene where, late one night in his opulent home, the elderly writer explains what lies ahead if his younger protégé is serious about creating something worthy of his talents.