Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Master by Colm Toibin

The Master by Colm Toibin (2004, 338 pages)

The Master by Colm Toibin (1955-Enniscorthy, Ireland) is a wonderful novel based on a portion of the life of the great American author, Henry James.   We first meet James in 1895 in London, we part company with him in 1899.   James was born in 1843 and died in 1916.   The period made use of in  The Master was the start of the "final phase" of James works where he created his most highly regarded and by most standards his most difficult works.  

There have been a number of recent very well done posts on The Master.   Ready When You are C. B. has an excellent post comparing the work to a 19th century novel.

I will just mention a few of the things I really like about this book.   I like its depiction of the relationship of Henry James to his brother William.   Toibin shows great subtly in showing us how that relationship was shaped by James relationship to their father.    James was very close to his sister Alice and we see that James gave himself a rare emotional permission to feel deeply about her.    He never comes close to recovering from her death.

Toibin also treats the question, though he ventures no answers, of the sexuality of James.    James has two emotional relationships in The Master but neither passes beyond barely acknowledged feelings.   I really felt the happiness of James when one of the two men stayed with him for a while in his apartment in London.

I really somehow loved the book when James began shopping to furnish his apartment under the guidance of  Lady Louise Wolseley who may or may not be having an affair and using her time with James as her cover story.   I could almost feel the confusion of James is trying to sort through his self analysis of his emotions toward her.   (Her husband was Garnet Wolseley, who had a long career of military service.    He was often gone for very long periods and his wife had great resources to do as she wished while the Viscount served the Empire in India, Burma, Ireland and Canada.)

I think you can enjoy this book even if you have not read any Henry James but you will for sure like the book more if you have read and appreciated some his work.   Portrait of a Lady and Daisy Miller are two of the most mentioned works in The Master.    If you do not like Henry James, I am not sure how you will react to this novel.   It is beautifully written.    There is not a lot of plot drama, no exciting events.

Toibin lets us see into the creative process of James.   We feel the pain of his doldrum periods.   I liked the references to Ireland scattered throughout the book.

I really hoped that James would encounter Flaubert, Turgenev and de Maupassant but it did not happen.  Toibin does show us some of the reading life of James and I liked that a lot.

I am very glad I read The Master.   I think most everyone will like this novel, the exception  being those who do not like the work of Henry James.

There is a very perceptive review of The Master at The Book Nook.

Mel u


Unknown said...

this book sounds delicious! i love henry james and thoroughly enjoy historical fiction. thanks for giving me another book for my TBR!

Unknown said...

Thank you for the link and the compliment. This is an excellent novel. I've read two by Toibin now and loved them both. I list him as a very under-rated novelist.

Suko said...

The Master does sound interesting!

(Charles and Yoda were very cute in their younger days!)

Mystica said...

I haven't read Henry James so maybe this will go also to my TBR list. Thanks.

Nicki J. Markus / Asta Idonea said...

I read this book a while back and really loved it!

CHE said...

What a coincidence that you bring up Henry James, I'm just reading through The Aspern Papers. I'd heard of Leon Edel's biographies of James but not of Colm Toibin. I think Edel wrote 4 or 5 biographies covering different stages of James' life.

JoAnn said...

The Master has been on my wishlist for years - loved both Portrait and Daisy Miller, and have at least two more James novels on my shelf. I've also had nothing but positive experience with Toibin. His writing (novels and short stories) is gorgeous. Thanks for reminding me about this one, Mel!

Mel u said...

Stephanie Hasty-I hope you will enjoy the book and I will look forward to reading your thoughts on it

C. B. James-you are welcome-I got a lot from your post

Suko-thanks as always

Mystica-you might start with Daisy Miller-it is a short work-70 pages at most-you can find it online-

Nicki Marcus-I am glad you enjoyed it and thanks very much for visiting my blog

Che-I read and posted on The Aspern Papers about a year ago-I am surprised it is not widely posted on-I really liked it a lot-thanks for stopping by

JoAnn-I would like to try some of his short stories-maybe you can post on one for Irish Short Story Week II in March 2012!

karen! said...

I started reading 'The Master' a couple of years ago, but had difficulty getting into it. You've inspired me to give it another try.

Mel u said...

Karen-best of luck on your second try-thanks for stopping by

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

I'm so glad you posted on this. I've been wanting to pick it up but hadn't read a single review yet. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I'm ashamed to admit I've yet to read any Toibin! I need to fix that. :)

Simar said...

Hey, I'm doing my project on this book. And I'm still confused about the ending.. The alice talking to Henry at the end, are they flashbacks? please can some one give a clear summary on the last few chapters.

Mel said...

I am so glad you enjoyed this novel. And many thanks for the compliment and reference to my review :)

Your review has expanded my awareness of some of the aspects of the novel. You know, I didn't fully think of it, but of course you are one hundred percent correct, that there really is not alot of plot action in the novel. Yet, it is so captivating!

A wonderful review Mel U, that reawakened fond memories of this incredible book, many thanks.

Mel u said...

Mel-it was actually through your post on The Master that I became aware of the book-it a really good book-it took real genius to write it