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Publisher's Summary

James considers this book to be his masterpiece! Various "ambassadors" are sent to Paris to persuade Chad Newsome to return to his New England town and attend to his business interests there. One of these envoys, Lambert Strether, is so impressed with Chad's suavity and charm that he advises him to stay with Mme. de Vionnet in France.
©1992 Audio Book Contractors, Inc. (P)2004 Audio Book Contractors, Inc.

What listeners say about The Ambassadors

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A dense, intricate, beautiful work

This was my first introduction to Henry James, but after listening to this, I'll be exploring his work further. I love novels like this. The writing is ponderous, more concerned with fleshing out the characters and musing on their plights than on advancing the plot. It's dense stuff, but when the writing is this beautiful, that's a good thing.

I highly recommend this if you're interested in immersing yourself in it. It's the type of old book that can put you in a reverie, and an antidote to our times, even if the story is at times quite sad. I do not recommend this if you are looking for a plot-driven novel or have a low tolerance for long, complicated sentences and a style of narration that is highly indirect and suggestive rather than blunt and forthright.

The narration is quite good, in my opinion, but I know these things are personal. Play samples from the various versions available to find the narrator that's right for you.

3 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

Why Henry James never goes out of style

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

This is a wonderful book, and thank you Flo Gibson for contriving charming character voices that transcend the ages. Your English-speaking Parisians come to life instantly, present themselves with dignity and high-minded sophistication.

Listening to the first chapter or so may be a bit daunting for some; the prose is somewhat archaic by today's standards (Not complaining! Love it!), requires some time to get the rhythm, sense the trajectory. But such a sweet story, so insightful and pleasant. After hearing it I went for the print version, intend to read it, too.

What did you like best about this story?

The deep dive into character development that generates an aire of highly refined sophistication assisted by disarming self-deprecation and good humor.

Have you listened to any of Flo Gibson’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I have not but will certainly seek them out.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

Vive la difference!

Any additional comments?

Thanks for a very enjoyable experience.

2 people found this helpful

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Loved reading Portrait of a Lady, but this...

I'm not sure why I disliked this audio book so much. I found the characters to be annoyingly self interested and ridiculously effusive. Everyone was "exquisite" and "perfect". Made myself finish it.

1 person found this helpful

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Not to my taste

I tried this novel first with a different narrator, and learned quickly that Henry James needs a reader who can handle the rhythm of his sentences. With the wrong narrator, his complex sentences sound herky-jerky; after a half hour I was convinced I was listening to a parody.

Flo Gibson to the rescue. She's someone who's not to everyone’s taste, but I've always loved her voice and found myself drawn in by her handling of the text and the characters. Gibson’s tones are not dulcet, but they are warm and humane and touched with humor. Since much of James’s prose seems to be lacking in exactly those qualities, her narration helps strike a balance. The prose is still knotty and the characters not especially engaging or likable, but at least the voice is a familiar friend.

Even so, I found my attention wandering quite a bit. Sessions with Henry James are likely to find me with my finger resting next to the Rewind button. Over and over again, after paying close attention to an interaction between two characters, I came away wondering: what the hell just happened? (Late in the game, I dug out the SparkNotes chapter summaries, which at least helped with this aspect of the novel.)

The problem I have is that characters in Henry James novels suffer from the same claustrophobic self-consciousness as those in Dostoevsky. They engage in the same kind of endless internal debates. But they have no depth: they are self-conscious about trivia, obsessed with appearances. They are dancing around on the surface of life. They are cardboard imitations of real people: they have no juice.

Even in their apparent dissolution, they are vapid do-nothings. Here is Strether, describing his way of “cutting loose” in Paris: “I don't get drunk; I don't pursue the ladies; I don't spend money; I don't even write sonnets. But nevertheless I'm making up late for what I didn't have early. I cultivate my little benefit in my own little way.”

My, Strether, I'm tempted to say, quoting Daniel Cleaver: what a gripping life you lead.

Strether is engaged to be married to a businesswoman in a small town in America. Her son seems to have disappeared into the fleshpots of France, and she sends Strether to find him and bring him back. Predictably, Strether himself is tempted by the plush lifestyle of the Europeans. Despite the hard-headed counsel of his friend Waymarsh, he is drawn in bit by bit. “Look here, Strether, quit this,” Waymarsh tells him. “Let them stew in their own juice. You're being used for a thing you ain't fit for.”

There was enough material here for a good short story. To pad it out to the length of a novel, though, James had to have his characters engage in beaucoodles of ratiocination — and then ratiocinate about their ratiocinating. A whole chapter is devoted to whether Chad wants to or whether he only wants to want to. It all becomes dreary and endless.

Here is James setting the scene for one of the climactic encounters in the novel. Strether is taking his dinner at a little cafe in the country.

“It may be mentioned without delay that Monsieur had the agreement of everything, and in particular, for the next twenty minutes, of a small and primitive pavilion that, at the garden's edge, almost overhung the water, testifying, in its somewhat battered state, to much fond frequentation. It consisted of little more than a platform, slightly raised, with a couple of benches and a table, a protecting rail and a projecting roof; but it raked the full grey-blue stream, which, taking a turn a short distance above, passed out of sight to reappear much higher up; and it was clearly in esteemed requisition for Sundays and other feasts. Strether sat there and, though hungry, felt at peace; the confidence that had so gathered for him deepened with the lap of the water, the ripple of the surface, the rustle of the reeds on the opposite bank....”

For the love of Pete, Henry, DO get on with it.

So.... James has never been a favorite, but I've been trying to broaden my horizons. Consider them broadened: James is marginally more interesting than Marcel Proust, whom I detest, and I have two or three more James novels I plan to tackle. But great heavens, what a sad, desiccated, joyless lot his people are, a quality reflected in his airless prose. I will read Henry James, I will understand him, but I will never like him. Not even when narrated by Flo Gibson.

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Where's the story?

This is more about my limitations as a reader than it is about James, but all I can do is be honest, and, my goodness, this was a tough slog to get through. In this vast sea of beautiful words, I wasn't able to find the story. I only know what the book was about because I went to Wikipedia. I don't know how many times I had to pause the recording and ask, wait, where are we now? Who's speaking? Who is this character again?

I don't know of a writer who uses more words to describe a person, a place, a state of being, than James. I've read/listened to several of his works and, I have to say, I find the movie adaptions of them to be better. Sacrilege, I know.