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The Masterby Colm Toibin
At the start of the 1900s, Henry James produced three masterpieces in as many years: first The Wings of the Dove, then The Ambassadors, and next The Golden Bowl. The Master introduces James six years prior, in January 1895, on the eve of his great public failure, as "Guy Domville" premieres on the London stage and wholly, horribly, flops.
"Nothing had prepared him for this," Tóibín writes. "For his friends, this night would be entered into the annals of the unmentionable, pages in which he had so studiously avoided having his name appear."
Nothing could be worse than that, to be exposed.
The Master is provocative, nuanced portraiture; Tóibín is a master himself at masking and unmasking, at revealing exactly what he must and nothing more. Luxuriously rendered, his fiction shares with that of James a wealth of piercing, precise observation; loaded, subtle gestures; and "exhilarating duplicities."
"[T]he Irish novelist Colm Tóibín has written several subtly imagined works of fiction, including The Blackwater Lightship, which was short-listed for the 1999 Booker Prize. And, against all odds, he succeeds here. The Master is a small tour de force of a novel....[A] lovely portrait of the artist, rich in fictional truth." Paula Marantz Cohen, The Times Literary Supplement (read the entire Times Literary Supplement review)
Synopses & Reviews
Like Michael Cunningham in The Hours, Colm Tóibín captures the extraordinary mind and heart of a great writer. Beautiful and profoundly moving, The Master tells the story of a man born into one of America's first intellectual families who leaves his country in the late nineteenth century to live in Paris, Rome, Venice, and London among privileged artists and writers.
In stunningly resonant prose, Tóibín captures the loneliness and the hope of a master of psychological subtlety whose forays into intimacy inevitably failed those he tried to love. The emotional intensity of this portrait is riveting.
"There's little in Colm Tóibín's previous work, to some of which this reviewer has been immune or even mildly allergic, to prepare for the startling excellence of his new novel. The Master is a portrait of Henry James that has the depth and finish of great sculpture." Adam Mars-Jones, The Observer
"A formidably brilliant performance." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Reviews)
"Even the reader who knows little about Henry James or his work can enjoy this marvelously intelligent and engaging novel, which presents not on a silver platter but in tender, opened hands a beautifully nuanced psychological portrait." Booklist (Starred Review)
"This is an audacious, profound, and wonderfully intelligent book." The Guardian
"If Leon Edel's five-volume life of Henry James is the literary equivalent of a vast but perfectly articulated symphony, this novel can best be described as a series of brilliant études based on themes derived from it." Francis King, Literary Review
"A sympathetic and triumphant novel of startling excellence....The Master is a portrait of Henry James that has the depth and finish of great sculpture." The Observer
"Tóibín's enthralling novel displays — in a manner that is masterly — the wit and metaphorical flair, psychological subtlety and phrases of pouncing incisiveness with which a great novelist captured the nuances of consciousness and duplicities of society." Sunday Times Review
"The subtlety and empathy with which Tóibín inhabits James's psyche and captures the fleeting emotional nuances of his world are beyond praise....Far more than a stunt, this is a riveting, if inevitably somewhat evasive, portrait of the creative life." Publishers Weekly
"Superbly controlled... this novel is a masterful, unshowy meditation on work, ambition, friendship, longing and mortality." Maureen N. McLane, Chicago Tribune
"[S]crupulously researched and artfully rendered....Tóibín excels at showing us...the connections between James's life and his fictional oeuvre. Highly recommended." Library Journal
About the Author
Colm Tóibín is the author of six novels, The South, The Heather Blazing, The Story of the Night, The Blackwater Lightship, The Master, and Brooklyn, as well as the story collection Mothers and Sons. He has been twice nominated for the Booker Prize. He lives in Dublin and New York.
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