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Publisher's Summary

From the Man Booker Prize-winning author of The Sea, a dazzling and audacious new novel that extends the story of Isabel Archer, the heroine of Henry James' The Portrait of a Lady, into unexpected territory.

Isabel Archer is a young American woman swept off to Europe in the late 19th century by an aunt who hopes to round out the impetuous but naïve girl's experience of the world. When Isabel comes into a large, unexpected inheritance, she is finagled into a marriage with the charming, penniless, and - as Isabel finds out too late - cruel and deceitful Gilbert Osmond, whose connection to a certain Madame Merle is suspiciously intimate. On a trip to England to visit her cousin Ralph Touchett on his deathbed, Isabel is offered a chance to free herself from the marriage but nonetheless chooses to return to Italy. Banville follows James' story line to this point, but Mrs. Osmond is thoroughly Banville's own: the narrative inventiveness; the lyrical precision and surprise of his language; the layers of emotional and psychological intensity; the subtle, dark humor. And when Isabel arrives in Italy - along with someone else! - the novel takes off in directions that James himself would be thrilled to follow.

©2017 John Banville (P)2017 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"Banville’s ability to channel James’s style and prose rhythms is astonishing. I can’t imagine anyone who could have done it better.”(Jeffrey Eugenides, The New York Times Book Review)

"As impressive an act of stylistic channeling as anything I’ve read.... 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.” (Anthony Domestico, The Boston Globe)

“Banville is one of the best novelists in English.... Mrs Osmond is both a remarkable novel in its own right and a superb pastiche.” (Edmund White, The Guardian)

Featured Article: Standout Contemporary Irish Authors You Should Give a Listen


Ireland may be a small country, but it's brimming with talent. Just listen to some of these popular contemporary Irish authors and see if you're not impressed with what this North Atlantic island has to offer to the literary community. Winning prestigious awards and topping best seller lists, today’s Ireland-born-and-bred authors are making a big impression on the literary world. Here are 10 contemporary Irish authors you should listen to now.

What listeners say about Mrs. Osmond

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Clever Continuation of Henry James

After listening to five chapters of Mrs. Osmand, I realized my memory of The Portrait of a Lady didn’t seem adequate-although I could have continued because John Banville gives the reader very subtle segments of the necessary background for most of us.
It was really that my curiosity had been piqued: how would I react now to James’ 137 year old publication which I had read fifty years ago. So, after I listened to the samples of about four available on Audible, I chose a narrator with a masculine voice, in homage to Henry James.
Twenty-two hours later, I started Mrs. Osmond again and was happier, feeling I had accompanied Mr James’ Isabell Archer right up to the commencement of Banville’s imagination of her. He seamlessly constructs what would have been James’ next chapter in a voice so similar to his that one wouldn’t notice any change if this novel had been purported to be a long lost manuscript.
What a treat for those of us who agree with Jane Austin that a well-written novel cannot be too long. And, the fresh voice of the female narrator on Audible is just fine for those of us who love to have a story told to us.

7 people found this helpful

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John Banville honors Henry James in devising an elegant continuation of “The Portrait of a Lady”

First, there is an excellent review of “Mrs. Osmond” by Caryl Phillips in The New York Review of Books, November 23, 2017. Audible might put a link to it on its website.

I do enjoy John Banville’s exquisite writing, and was wary of listening to it on the audio book, but found that the narrator did an excellent job of letting the language spool out, while articulating the differences in characters. As in the James novel, most of the narrative comprises Isabel’s interior thoughts. Slowly, Banville reveals how Isabel comes to wrest control for her destiny out of the hands of her husband, while leaving her next steps unresolved. For readers of Portrait of a Lady, this is compelling because despite our impatience with Isabel, we want her to succeed. Banville traces Isabel’s very human fits and starts of finding direction for herself, while leaving her future steps unresolved.
I found Mrs. Osmond’s narrative absorbing, and entertaining, despite wanting to scream at her occasionally. I enjoyed Banville’s finely drawn characterization of the other players, those from the James novel and some new ones.

6 people found this helpful

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Banville, what were you thinking?

Unless it was the reader who butchered this book it was John Banville who had a misstep in writing it. How could this great author write such a dull, repetitive novel, seemingly parodying James, not emulating him.
None of the Jamesian insight or narrative drive.

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Terrible sequel to Portrait of a Lady

The narrator did a credible job but this sequel truly offended me. The author took the storyline off track and trivialized the characters from the original book to good and evil stereotypes or changed them completely. New characters were introduced who were non sequiturs and diminished the plot. Ugh...read, or listen to, Portrait of a Lady. Don’t waste your time on this book.

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Narrator Doesn't Do Banville Justice

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

I certainly wouldn't recommend the audiobook; Banville is a very good writer, but the narrator just isn't up to his level. What was Random House Audio thinking when they paired Amy Finegan with him??

Would you be willing to try another one of Amy Finegan’s performances?

No.

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A Mockery of a Lady

I hated this story from beginning to end and would give it zero stars if that was a rating option. Henry James would be appalled to see the liberties taken with his characters by John Banville.

James is one of the few male authors of his time able to write in an authentic voice for a female character that wasn’t patronizing, condescending or derogatory. Isabel Archer is one of the strongest, bravest and most enigmatic heroines in English fiction and this sequel does her great injustice from the first sentence to the last.

I have often hypothesized about what Isabel chose to do after eating the bitter fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and so I was intrigued to read Banville’s “sequel”. What a disappointment. The story is slow, boring, and poorly written. The intended shocking revelations are so obvious the reader knows them chapters before they are understood by the characters. Or they are left unexplained loose ends like the bag of money Isabel withdraws from her bank at the beginning of the story and ends up doing nothing with.

The book supposedly starts where Portrait ended but it is maddening that key characters have completely changed personalities, motives, avowals and even sexual orientation in a matter of days. Gilbert’s abuse of Isabel is so powerful in Portrait because it is subtle, psychological and indistinguishable to the outside world. When Banville suddenly changes the book’s voice from Isabel’s to Gilbert’s mid-story it is jarring and Gilbert is reduced from terrifying to one dimensional and ordinary. Gilbert Osmond would never give up power over his daughter Pansy or consent to divorce, not even for Isabel’s entire fortune.

I pity Mr Banville for wasting time writing a novel about characters he has no understanding of and I regret the time I spent listening to Mrs. Osmond. The ending was especially upsetting, foreshadowing that Isabel would exchange one unequal marriage to a gold digger for another. Suggesting she’s learned nothing of the world and the value of Ralph’s gift of freedom to her and is just another easily understood woman so desperate for companionship that she’ll beg her maid to have dinner with her and settle for another loveless marriage. Banville’s portrait of Isabel as a foolish woman of means with no purpose in life but to support worthless men she has no passion or respect for is insulting to all his female readers. Henry James must be turning over in his grave.

If Banville understood Portrait of a Lady at all he would have at least realized any true sequel to James’ brilliant classic would be called Isabel Archer, not Mrs. Osmond.

I prefer to think of James’ heroine Isabel as he wrote her and will continue to imagine the exceptional things she went on to do with her life and fortune when she fled from Gardencourt and Casper Goodwood at the end of Portrait of a Lady.

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intolerable

author's writing is superfluous to a painful level. narrator's voice is also painful but she does not have much to work with. dull. dull, dull

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Painful

O...M...Goodness....please make the lengthy descriptions STOP. It is so distracting and in my opinion a terrible continuation of Isabel's life. Finally, to end the madness I just went to the last chapter of the book. After listening to authors such as Jane Austen use perfectly positioned descriptions, this was painful.

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A satisfying sequel

A credible conclusion to The Portrait of a Lady, and thankfully a plot that moved faster than the James story.

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Banville is not Henry James, but it's OK

Unfortunately I listened to Mrs. Osmond right after listening to Portrait of a Lady, and the fact that Henry James is a far superior author was glaringly obvious ... but as I continued to listen and James' style and descriptions were no longer so fresh in my mind, I enjoyed the story; so I would say it's worth the read or listen, just be sure that some time has passed since you've heard Portrait of a Lady.