Tuesday, January 18, 2022

BOOK REVIEW: The Master by Colm Tóibín

I am awed by Colm Tóibín. A short while ago, I read his biographical novel of Thomas Mann, The Magician, and was blown away by the writing. I immediately put one of his earlier works, The Master, a biographical novel of Henry James, on my TBR list. I just finished it.

I haven’t read much of James’s work, only The Turn of the Screw and The Bostonians. I think I read The Portrait of a Lady over thirty years ago but remember next to nothing about it. Now, of course, I’ll have to read it again and more of James.

The Master
drew me in slowly, but the more I read, the more engrossed I became. I fell completely into the world and into the head of a 50-something-year-old Henry James as he settles into sedate middle age in his off-the-beaten-track country home in Rye. He works. He muses. He spends time with old friends, rare new ones, and family members, but not too much time. Then he works and muses some more. He reminisces. Most of his memories are somber ones. Yet he seems more contemplative than sad. He recycles every experience, one way or another, into his writings. He observes life as much or more than he lives it. And I was fascinated to observe it alongside him.

The amazing part of Tóibín’s work is how deft he is at creating a convincing thought process for a turn of the twentieth century writer. He made Henry James seem so real, so immediate, that he (Tóibín) disappeared, just as he did when writing The Magician.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. And I’m thrilled to know I’ve come late to Tóibín’s writing because there are more books out there waiting for me.

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