As Theroux points out, the novel is generally considered a transitional work between James's earlier style and his later one. Theroux also locates this gear-change at the point where James ceased writing in longhand and started dictating his novels to a stenographer -- a crisis described so well by Colm Toibin in his biographical novel, THE MASTER. The first half of the book shows a leanness of style and also a great sense of humor not often associated with the author. But the book's premise is intrinsically comic: Maisie, a five-year-old girl, observes the doings of the adults around her as she is shipped from household to household in consequence of her parents' divorce, as the parents take lovers and remarry, and then as virtually everybody else in the story take other lovers. The humor comes from the fact that while Maisie understands so little at first, the adult reader quickly picks up what is going on. The spider symmetries of the expanding web of sex make a formal pattern as clear and intricate as a dance, illuminated by James's dry wit and his beautiful ability to see through childish eyes.