‘His book was a novel; it had the catchpenny cover, and while the
romance of life stood neglected at his side he lost himself in that of the circulating library’ (James 336).
James, Henry. ‘The Middle Years’. Terminations, Scribner’s Magazine, 1893, pp. 335–55.
Dencombe’s observation of the three beach goers represents the idea of mortality. The young man reading the book is unable to realize that something just as exciting as his story is happening right next to him because he is so enraptured by wild ideas and fantasies found within stories. ‘His book was a novel’ is not only talking about the young man’s book, but his own life. It means his life is also a story, a story that he has to shape and write himself for it to be just as enjoyable and fulfilling as the books he losses himself in, reminding Dencombe and readers that life is fleeting and we do not get 2nd chances to properly enjoy it.