Colm Toibin has obtained great commercial and literary success. I have posted on several of his novels and short stories as well as his works of literary criticism.
I first read his The Master about ten years ago, before I began The Reading Life. I was motivated to read it again by all the glowing reviews and by the sale price for the Kindle edition of $2.95. I also wanted to reread it after reading a number of the fictions of James and a biography of Constance Fenimore Woolson, about whom I knew nothing ten years ago.
The Master focuses on the life of Henry James from January 1895 to October 1899, years he lived in London. It is centered on the interior world of James. It opens with the humiliation of James when his play Guy Domville is a total flop on the London Stage. James reacts by deciding he needs more solitude to focus on his novels. He buys a house in London. One of the things I recalled from ten years ago was the great pleasure skill Toibin had in showing us the great joy James found in furnishing his house.
We see his complicated relationship to his brother William and his sister Alice as well as to his parents. The mystery of the sexuality of James is dealt with very subtly. Homosexuality was illegal and the fate of Oscar Wilde was very harsh.
James had a very close relationship to the American novelist Constance Fenimore Woolson, which plays a large part in The Master. Some say it was the inability or refusal of James to enter into a romantic relationship with her that led to her suicide. This is of course speculation. We see him with her in Venice.
If you are into Henry James then you will find The Master fascinating, as did I.