I’m still trying to get my head around John Banville as a writer. The first novel of his that I read was The Sea, which I remember being lyrical and dreamy; then I turned to Dr Copernicus, which I found frustratingly dense. This new historical novel shares elements of both those other books, blending a poignant sense of loss with high style; but it also has other strong influences. Banville isn’t really writing as himself here. As I read more, I came to realise that Mrs Osmond is actually an ambitious tribute, elevated fan-fiction if you like, in which Banville imagines how Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady might have continued. The titular Mrs Osmond is Isabel, née Archer, and we first meet her as she returns to London in what might fairly be called the darkest period of her life.