The Master Book Cover
“Colm Tóibín’s beautiful, subtle illumination of Henry James’s inner life” (The New York Times) captures the loneliness and hope of a master of psychological subtlety whose forays into intimacy inevitably fail those he tried to love.

Beautiful and profoundly moving, The Master tells the story of Henry James, 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. With stunningly resonant prose, “The Master is unquestionably the work of a first-rate novelist: artful, moving, and very beautiful” (The New York Times Book Review). The emotional intensity of this portrait is riveting.
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The Master Reviews

Alex
It's pretty audacious to make Henry James the hero of your book. Tóibín starts by showing us this deeply closeted, repressed guy: this is the Henry James we know. But then: he goes deeper, writing him as not just closeted but a coward, a selfish guy, and you're like whoa, hey. And then he goes even deeper and shows the terrible damage he's inflicted on everyone around him through his cowardice and selfishness, and you realize Tóibín hasn't made James the hero of his book; he's made him the villa It's pretty audacious to make Henry James the hero of your book. Tóibín starts by showing us this deeply closeted, repressed guy: this is the Henry James we know. But then: he goes deeper, writing him as not just closeted but a coward, a selfish guy, and you're like whoa, hey. And then he goes even deeper and shows the terrible damage he's inflicted on everyone around him through his cowardice and selfishness, and you realize Tóibín hasn't made James the hero of his book; he's made him the villain. That's audacious.

Or something. This is a subtle book, and like the best books it acts as a mirror. Many of us have caused damage to some of those around us, in the course of being our shitty selves. We have varying amounts of angst about it. I have a lot of angst about my damage, and I'm not inclined to forgive Henry James.

Tóibín has talked about his "pure admiration for figures who, unlike myself, weren’t afraid (Oscar Wilde, Bacon, Almodóvar)," naming three more or less openly gay artists. I think he identifies with James, and I think there's some self-flagellation going on here. Not that I know anything about Colm Tóibín (Cull 'em Toe-BEAN, btw); I'm going entirely by the quote above.

So...how do you feel about your damage?
There's an ambush spoiler for Portrait of a Lady in the boring last chapter, be aware.
Bandit
I liked Brooklyn and wanted to read more of Tóibín's work. Maybe this wasn't the right choice, but all the praises and reviews and awards seem to suggest otherwise. Granted I'm not a fan of James, I have no formed opinion of James, having never read his work, though I saw the film adaptations and they never made me want to read James. Like some classic literature tends to, James' work seemed to be something of a ploddingly slow variety, although most likely well written. Appropriately enough jus I liked Brooklyn and wanted to read more of Tóibín's work. Maybe this wasn't the right choice, but all the praises and reviews and awards seem to suggest otherwise. Granted I'm not a fan of James, I have no formed opinion of James, having never read his work, though I saw the film adaptations and they never made me want to read James. Like some classic literature tends to, James' work seemed to be something of a ploddingly slow variety, although most likely well written. Appropriately enough just like The Master itself. As a historical fiction, it's an interesting read on the late 1800s. As a novel, it's positively soporific. James comes across as a fairly dispassionate observer of life, who travels through Europe witnessing more so than experiencing. Despite having written of complex human emotions and, of course, the chief one of them all...love, it doesn't appear as though James has actually engaged in any of it, aside from his unrealized homosexual longings. It isn't particularly engaging to read about an unengaged, emotionally aloof character, regardless of his place in the literary realm. Tóibín is unquestionably a very talented writer, he does some spectacular things with words. It just wasn't enough in this instance to entertain, delight or even sometimes keep awake. The completist in me stubbornly stuck around for the duration, but was glad to see it over. Fans of James' work might really enjoy discovering inspirations behind their favorite books and this was obviously a well liked well reviewed novel. Just didn't work for me personally.
Pickle Farmer
A good one. Very nice. I'd recommend this book to people like my former roommate, who read the first page of "Wings of the Dove" and then threw it across the room while saying, "WTF is this shit?" That is to say, this is book for people to read who can't stand Henry James' style: the long sentences, etc. I am a James fan but I definitely concur that you totes have to be in the mood and that it's definitely a matter of taste. So yeah, I liked this book and looked forward to reading it. At times I A good one. Very nice. I'd recommend this book to people like my former roommate, who read the first page of "Wings of the Dove" and then threw it across the room while saying, "WTF is this shit?" That is to say, this is book for people to read who can't stand Henry James' style: the long sentences, etc. I am a James fan but I definitely concur that you totes have to be in the mood and that it's definitely a matter of taste. So yeah, I liked this book and looked forward to reading it. At times I felt like the author was positing this hyper critical portrayal of James (specifically in regards to his repressed bisexuality--IDK if that's true or not; it is according to this book). That made me feel resistant at times because I don't like it when an author is trying to forcefully make me think or feel a specific way; I'd rather just come to my own conclusions. But now that I think about it, it could have been a lot worse. I guess the best word to use for the author's attitude is "unflinching." But yeah, lots of powerful moments and scenes in this book. The part where Henry smells the army jacket of his brother in the Civil War. The part where he throws the dresses of his BFF who committed suicide (implicitly because of him) into the Venice waters and they keep bobbing to the surface. Like "Beast in the Jungle" or "Turn in the Screw," these moments are creepy, sad but delicious. This book will make you want to spend a lot of time on google afterwards and try to learn things like, was Edmund Gosse really homosexual, and was William James really kind of an a-hole. Recommended.
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Richard
This is quite an intriguing novel—it is based on a real character and Tóibín makes extensive use of the letters, works, and biographies of Henry James but fictionalises the writer’s inner life, its motives, its guilt, its anguished introspective searching. Hence, it is an example of “faction”. The Henry James of this novel is certainly very much a creation of the author and while much may well be revelatory—it remains an imaginative excursion.

To build this portrait of the author, Tóibín concent This is quite an intriguing novel—it is based on a real character and Tóibín makes extensive use of the letters, works, and biographies of Henry James but fictionalises the writer’s inner life, its motives, its guilt, its anguished introspective searching. Hence, it is an example of “faction”. The Henry James of this novel is certainly very much a creation of the author and while much may well be revelatory—it remains an imaginative excursion.

To build this portrait of the author, Tóibín concentrates on the relations James had with three women: his sister, Alice, a cousin, Minny Temple, and the author Constance Fenimore Woolson. James has certain difficult relationships with these three though he admires and respects them.

Yet these women provide a tremendous inspiration for his novels. He creates lives in alternate realities for them. He is able to configure his responses to these women only through the use of Art. Henry James becomes a Master of the novel but this is caused somehow by his failure as a person.

This is pretty much how I see the novel. To what extent the book reflects the actual man is moot. But it is intriguing.

Personally, the book prompted me to decide to sample the novels of Constance Fenimore Woolson. They are in the public domain and excellent free digital copies which include the original illustrations are available on Project Gutenberg.
Charlotte Potter
A beautifully sensitive depiction of a life experienced in solitude and company, both at once craved for and feared. Henry is relatable because he is an outsider in so many ways, neither American nor English, stubbornly single but cherishing ambiguous, intimate and intense relationships which are unconventional, not feeling entirely happy in any one place but also content with his life. Tóibín's prose is weighty but lucid, and he manages to present an impression of Henry James which feels authen A beautifully sensitive depiction of a life experienced in solitude and company, both at once craved for and feared. Henry is relatable because he is an outsider in so many ways, neither American nor English, stubbornly single but cherishing ambiguous, intimate and intense relationships which are unconventional, not feeling entirely happy in any one place but also content with his life. Tóibín's prose is weighty but lucid, and he manages to present an impression of Henry James which feels authentic and introspective but also respectful and measured.
Barbara
Toibin's novel is a masterpiece. I haven't read Henry James, and I probably won't. There are many readers who love his books, but I think I'd rather read about him. I am not interested in the lives of the classes of people he writes about. Nonetheless, Toibin's portrayal of an author who lived an asexual life rather than act on his attraction to the same sex is well wrought. I thoroughly enjoyed the descriptions 19th century Venice and Dublin. Writers and artists such Lady Gregory, Edith Wharton Toibin's novel is a masterpiece. I haven't read Henry James, and I probably won't. There are many readers who love his books, but I think I'd rather read about him. I am not interested in the lives of the classes of people he writes about. Nonetheless, Toibin's portrayal of an author who lived an asexual life rather than act on his attraction to the same sex is well wrought. I thoroughly enjoyed the descriptions 19th century Venice and Dublin. Writers and artists such Lady Gregory, Edith Wharton, Yeats, and references to many others such as O'Casey and Synge were especially interesting to me.
Eleanor
Beautifully done - I loved it. Somehow Tóibìn has written in a style which echoes that of James, without being a slavish imitation. James' reticence and inability to reach out to others is utterly convincing. He was always the outsider, watching and remembering but unable to participate except at a safe and shallow level.

A wonderful book.
Kasey Jueds
The Master was recommended to me ages ago by a dear friend, and I read it after I finished rereading/listening to James's Portrait of a Lady, which I first read (and adored, though I couldn't remember it well) in high school. I knew very little about Henry James's life, and I'm assuming (through things I've read about The Master elsewhere plus comments here) that it's pretty historically accurate, at least in terms of outward events and details. I can't tell if I loved it so much because I'd jus The Master was recommended to me ages ago by a dear friend, and I read it after I finished rereading/listening to James's Portrait of a Lady, which I first read (and adored, though I couldn't remember it well) in high school. I knew very little about Henry James's life, and I'm assuming (through things I've read about The Master elsewhere plus comments here) that it's pretty historically accurate, at least in terms of outward events and details. I can't tell if I loved it so much because I'd just read and loved Portrait of a Lady, and maybe it doesn't matter. The Master is insightful and rich and occasionally funny and often quietly heartbreaking. It's slow (some reviewers have commented on this) - a quality that almost never bothers me in a book - in the sense that it's not plot-driven, and centers on a main character with a profound, complex internal life. It's not like nothing ever happens to this fictionalized Henry James - plenty of things do - but the emphasis is on his psychological/ emotional life, which I found deeply moving. Particularly the many ways in which the character protects himself, doesn't allow too much closeness even with the people he loves best (Toibin portrays James as a closeted gay man who never allowed himself genuine intimacy) - this aspect of Toibin's James is poignant and feels deeply human. And then there's the outward world, which does exist in the book and is luminously detailed: Venice and London and Rye and New England feel as alive as the characters do.
Chick_Flick
I found "The Master" utterly boring to read. I'd only picked it up because it was on one of the "1001 books you must read before you die" lists. Perhaps I should have read a summary of the book before reading it. As a reader who has not read any of Henry James's books, I can't say that Colm Toibin made me anymore the curiouser. Of course, I do think it was a technically well written book -- however there was so little suspense there or anything to keep the reader, who has no interest in Henry Ja I found "The Master" utterly boring to read. I'd only picked it up because it was on one of the "1001 books you must read before you die" lists. Perhaps I should have read a summary of the book before reading it. As a reader who has not read any of Henry James's books, I can't say that Colm Toibin made me anymore the curiouser. Of course, I do think it was a technically well written book -- however there was so little suspense there or anything to keep the reader, who has no interest in Henry James's life, turning the page.

This book has been compared to Cunningham's "The Hours" but as far as I understand (from the movie) that book did not focus SOLELY on a fictionalized account of Virginia Woolf's life, whose life I think is so much more interesting. I think it was a bit much to have concentrated a whole book on James. Well, if you're into reading about a whole bunch of dinner parties thrown by an upperclass white American man living in Europe during the turn of the 19th century, then this may be the book for you. It just wasn't for me.
Robin
I can't remember the last time I have savored the pages of a novel so much. I found myself actually slowing the pace of my reading, wanting to sink into the power of the writing and the scenes depicting the lives of the characters. This novel had me spellbound. It felt as if I was experiencing the life and imagination of Henry James. As a reader, Colm Tóibín had me in his pocket.
Maria
If you read this solely as historical fiction and are a fan of H James, prepare to happily wallow in a beautifully written, well-balanced novel. A supremely satisfactory experience.
Bruce
Beautifully written, poetic, nuanced and sensitive, capturing the inner life of a complex and elusive author. A must reads for fans of Henry James.
John
Master..ful. Hope I live long enough to re-read it.
TheGirlBytheSeaofCortez
This was a reread for me, and I'm so glad I did take time out to reread.

I've been a longtime fan of Henry James and I've read almost everything he ever published. Not quite everything, but almost. My favorites are The Golden Bowl, the novella, The Turn of the Screw, and the exquisite Portrait of a Lady. Henry James is the only man, other than Jose Saramago, who can grab my attention at the beginning of a sentence and hold it until he concludes that very same sentence several pages later.

Talented This was a reread for me, and I'm so glad I did take time out to reread.

I've been a longtime fan of Henry James and I've read almost everything he ever published. Not quite everything, but almost. My favorites are The Golden Bowl, the novella, The Turn of the Screw, and the exquisite Portrait of a Lady. Henry James is the only man, other than Jose Saramago, who can grab my attention at the beginning of a sentence and hold it until he concludes that very same sentence several pages later.

Talented Irish author, Colm Toibin's The Master, a book about Henry James, is very different from what I thought it would be, but it fulfilled all of my expectations for an engrossing and very serious book. As one reads The Master, one must be aware that this is a novel, a novel in which the central character is Henry James, and not a biography of James. To view the book as a biography would be doing it a grave disservice.

The Master opens in London in 1895, at the dreadful premiere of James' play, Guy Domville, a play James, himself, was too nervous to attend. He went, instead, to see Oscar Wilde's comedy, An Ideal Husband, but returned to the theatre in which Guy Domville had been staged in time to hear the humiliating jeers and boos from the audience. The book ends in Rye, in southern Sussex, at James' beloved Lamb House, as the 19th century is ending and his brother, William, William's wife, Alice, and their daughter, Peggy (a lover of the works of Dickens), are departing for the sunnier and warmer South of France.

While no previous knowledge of James is required to understand The Master, I think this is a book that's best appreciated by those with some familiarity with the works of Henry James and with his personal life as well. For example, it helps greatly in your appreciation of The Master if you know that James' cousin, the vivacious Minny Temple, as well as his own hypochondriacal sister, Alice, formed the basis for many of his heroines, Minny for Daisy Miler and Isabel Archer and Alice for the little girl in The Turn of the Screw. In fact, Toibin even goes so far as to suggest that James actually preferred his loved ones dead, rather than alive, so he could resurrect their ghosts as characters in his stories.

In what is the most heartbreaking section of the book, The Master explores James' tragic relationship with the American novelist, Constance Fenimore Woolson, a talented, elegant and highly intelligent woman (but one given to much deep melancholia) who was, in all probability James' soulmate, but a woman to whom James could not give the physical intimacy she so craved. In heartrending set pieces, James visits Constance in Florence, then later travels to Venice after learning of her suicide there to view the place where she threw herself from a palazzo window and died, broken and bleeding, on the pavement below.

Toibin portrays James as a man who always let down those he loved, particularly women. Besides laying the blame for Constance's suicide squarely on James' shoulders (he allegedly refused to join her in Venice during a particularly dismal winter after indicating that he might), he also places the blame for Minny Temple's death from tuberculosis at James' feet, pointing out that Minny wanted to join James in Rome:

Think, my dear, of the pleasure we would have together in Rome

...Minny wrote to James. What Toibin doesn't tell us is that Minny knew her fantasy of traveling to Rome, or anywhere else, for that matter, was just that...a fantasy, for in a postscript to her letter to James she wrote:

I am really not strong enough to go abroad with even the kindest of friends.

Toibin leaves us with the idea that James was a cold, selfish and self-centered man, when in fact, while certainly not a gadfly, he may very well have been a kind and sympathetic friend.

Toibin is probably at his best when exploring James' repressed sexuality. It is well known that James was horrified at the fate of the very open Oscar Wilde, and Toibin assumes, probably correctly, that James' fear of the same consequences kept him from exploring and expressing his own feelings.

Toibin does manage to write in the same style as did James, but he wisely stops short of giving us James' pages-long sentences. The Master is, however, a melancholy, wistful book, and if anything, Toibin puts too much emphasis on the solitary, tragic aspects of James' life, while ignoring the author's more sociable, witty side. Toibin weaves his story into eleven chapters, each one containing an incident that triggers a memory of the past in James. A remark made by the Archbishop of Canterbury's son, for example, triggers a memory in James that later becomes The Turn of the Screw.

The book is beautifully detailed, something that further served to bring James to life. When describing James' room in the Florentine palazzo of a friend, Toibin tells us it had a:

...pompous painted ceiling and walls of ancient pale green damask slightly shredded and patched....

Despite a few misgivings, I found The Master to be a beautiful book, as graceful and delicately nuanced as a watercolor. For me, its only failing, if it can even be termed a failing, is Toibin's insistence on concentrating on James as an essentially tragic figure. He paints James' life as a life devoid of passion. While it's true that James lived during a time in which it would have been difficult for him to explore his sexuality, Toibin doesn't seem to consider the passion, or the redemptive power, inherent in a life dedicated to art. Still, this book is so well written, and so elegantly written, that I can't justify giving it any fewer than five stars.

5/5

Recommended: Yes, especially to lovers of the works of Henry James. Those readers, I think, will be enthralled.
Claudia Putnam
I'm certain this will be my top read for 2017. It's one of those books where you know it's 5 stars from the last sentence of the first paragraph.

Here's the first paragraph:

Sometimes in the night he dreamed about the dead--familiar faces and the others, half-forgotten ones, fleetingly summoned up. Now as he woke, it was, he imagined, an hour or more before the dawn; there would be no sound or movement for several hours. He touched the muscles on his neck which had become stiff; to his fingers th I'm certain this will be my top read for 2017. It's one of those books where you know it's 5 stars from the last sentence of the first paragraph.

Here's the first paragraph:

Sometimes in the night he dreamed about the dead--familiar faces and the others, half-forgotten ones, fleetingly summoned up. Now as he woke, it was, he imagined, an hour or more before the dawn; there would be no sound or movement for several hours. He touched the muscles on his neck which had become stiff; to his fingers they seemed unyielding and solid but not painful. As he moved his head, he could hear the muscles creaking. I am like an old door, he said to himself.

The he in question is the novelist Henry James. A door indeed.

And we proceed, via Toibin's measured sentences, each one a world leading to another world, each one beguiling, each portrait of each character so Dostoyevskyan in detail (without the frenzy) that we can't help but want to see what's next. Even when we can't stand James in moments... and do we like him ever? He's a cold-hearted bastard, an emotional coward, despite his immense sympathy. He grasps the pain of others, but never involves himself... the book is a fascinating portrait of both the artistic process and one man's ruthlessness in protecting that process--the time and space he needed to write. Perhaps his celibacy was more about this than anything else. (It's thought that it was about his conflictedness about homosexuality.)

Toibin's achievement, as always, is that he creates suspense from sentence to sentence, and in our concern for the situations, rather than in any overarching plot per se.

I never see his name in any speculations for the Nobel Prize and this astonishes me.
David
I know very little of Henry James and should read his books. After reading this book, I felt I really should read James and even bought the Turn of the Screw. Toibin is a master of language and one feels empathy about the writer. Another good read.
Ginny
Wonderfully written. This is the first account I have read of Henry James' life, so I have no idea how accurate the details are. As a work of fiction, it is a beautiful study of one man's creative process. Where do the ideas for stories come from, and where can imagination take them?
Lauren Albert
Quietly magnificent. A portrait of a fictional Henry James who is so real that, when you finish the book, you feel that you have just walked out of a room where you were speaking to him. Compassionate and psychologically astute portrayal.(not sure why this is listed as audio version).
Carole Frank
This was not a quick read, but beautifully written. It is a fictionalised life of Henry James, told in in a way that shows James to be almost frightened to have any intimacy with the people he cared for. Toibin has done a superb job in bringing James to life, the way he prefers a quiet, undisturbed life and to put all his feelings into his novels. We see life at the end of the eighteenth century in all the major European capitals and the well-known names that he knew there. It has made me want t This was not a quick read, but beautifully written. It is a fictionalised life of Henry James, told in in a way that shows James to be almost frightened to have any intimacy with the people he cared for. Toibin has done a superb job in bringing James to life, the way he prefers a quiet, undisturbed life and to put all his feelings into his novels. We see life at the end of the eighteenth century in all the major European capitals and the well-known names that he knew there. It has made me want to try again with James's novels, which I have not really got into before.
Erin
I picked this up because I saw the movie Brooklyn and a couple based on books Henry James, but was otherwise largely unfamiliar with either author. It unfurled like a rose, slowly, one beautiful petal at a time. There were moments that really resonated with me, particularly as the author captured the way we as humans cope with tragedy and the strategies we use to reconcile our losses. Besides thoroughly enjoying it, this book has succeeded in motivating me to pick up more stories by both men.
Olivia
This book was gorgeous and quiet and just what I needed to forget a very stressful spring semester. Highly recommend for any fan of Henry James or Toibin.
CAROL WAGERS
This was a selection for one of my book clubs. It's a fictionalized version of the life of Henry James. I found it a difficult Read, far too much introspection. I had a very hard time forcing myself to continue reading.
Charles Monagan
An extraordinary book. It's a patient, quiet, deeply felt, fully realized, fictional meditation on the life of novelist Henry James during the years 1895-1899. Here we have James moving among London, Venice, Florence and Rome - and, in his memory, Newport and Boston - considering the ghosts of the past, dealing with present-day society and tilting at family issues/memories. Ultimately, "The Master" is the story of yearning and self-denial, and the sacrifices and prohibitions an artist must impos An extraordinary book. It's a patient, quiet, deeply felt, fully realized, fictional meditation on the life of novelist Henry James during the years 1895-1899. Here we have James moving among London, Venice, Florence and Rome - and, in his memory, Newport and Boston - considering the ghosts of the past, dealing with present-day society and tilting at family issues/memories. Ultimately, "The Master" is the story of yearning and self-denial, and the sacrifices and prohibitions an artist must impose in order to pursue his work - and the costs that come with that. Toibin's writing is superb and his tone and control seem exactly right. I especially appreciated the lift he gave to the final 20 or so pages, a delicate lightening of mood that sets James up for the rich later stages of his career.
Ana Carvalheira
Ao ter terminado de ler este excelente romance não posso deixar de conjeturar que, o autor que deu vida a "Brooklin", não pode ser o mesmo que criou esta singular narrativa que, basicamente, relata um período da vida do escritor americano Henry James, abrangendo, do ponto de vista cronológico, os anos entre 1885 e 1889, época essa em que vivera na Irlanda, na Inglaterra, em Itália e em França, localizando, porém, a maior parte da história, na sua permanência en Rye, na Inglaterra, em "Lamb House Ao ter terminado de ler este excelente romance não posso deixar de conjeturar que, o autor que deu vida a "Brooklin", não pode ser o mesmo que criou esta singular narrativa que, basicamente, relata um período da vida do escritor americano Henry James, abrangendo, do ponto de vista cronológico, os anos entre 1885 e 1889, época essa em que vivera na Irlanda, na Inglaterra, em Itália e em França, localizando, porém, a maior parte da história, na sua permanência en Rye, na Inglaterra, em "Lamb House".

É, simplesmente, sublime! A abordagem biográfica, não só do autor mas também de toda a família James, a praticamente ausência de elementos descritivos, a não ser quando se dedica ao delicioso tratamento estilístico dos jardins da sua casa em Rye ou dos terraços panorâmicos de Roma, a estrutura narrativa, a beleza da prosa, tudo converge para que, em determinada altura, nos questionemos se estamos, de facto, a ler Colm Tóibin ou se não é o próprio Henry James que reaparece numa obra sua, auto-biográfica, póstuma, não editada.

Ao abordar os comportamentos da sociedade londrina, poderia, no início, levar-nos a crer que se trata de uma narrativa prosaica pouco ditirâmbica nos seus conteúdos morais ou sentimentais. Poderíamos pensar que arriscava apenas uma pretensão literária onde só interessavam os costumes de uma época; nada mais errado. É uma obra de uma enorme pungência narrativa, que questiona ou adensa as emoções próprias da condição humana: "Ao entrar naquela sala, a princesa trouxera consigo o passado, e depois da morte dos pais e da irmã, tudo o que lhe fizesse lembrar uma época que não voltaria mais provocava nele uma terrível e opressiva melancolia. O tempo nunca apaziguaria nada; na sua juventude, nunca imaginara que a perda pudesse desencadear nela uma dor tão intensa , uma dor que agora, só conseguia escapar graças a trabalho e ao sono".

Henry James foi filho de uma época de enorme prolixidade literária, na qual teve oportunidade de contemporizar com escritores como Oscar Wilde, Nathaniel Hawthorne, George Eliot ou Robert Browning com os quais nunca tivera grandes relações de proximidade, embora a admiração fosse mútua. A ambiguidade das suas tendências sexuais, a relação com a família, com os amigos, as temporadas em Roma ou Veneza que nele suscitaram as excelentes ideias para a sua extraordinária obra, a relação com a escritora americana Constance Woolson que viria a suicidar-se, provocando talvez uma certa teatralização da sua própria morte, assim entendida por James que, ao mesmo tempo, não deixa de sentir a sua própria culpabilidade nesse trágico acontecimento, a perda dos irmãos mais novos na Guerra da Secessão americana, todo o horror que sentira, toda a sua solidão e a tristeza intrínsecas ao próprio génio, todos esses aspetos concorrem para que "O Mestre" seja de leitura obrigatória para quem admira a obra de Henry James, vista e analisada pela pena de um dos mais conceituados escritores irlandeses vivos.
Roger Pettit


'The Master' is so good that I was tempted to begin these thoughts with 'wow'! But a word such as that, with its imagery of showiness and self-confidence, is perhaps a wholly inappropriate response to a brilliant work of fictional biography that is spare, understated and refined (characteristics that could also be used to describe its subject, Henry James, if this partial portrait of him is at all accurate). Let me just say at this point then that 'The Master' is a masterpiece.

What we have is a

'The Master' is so good that I was tempted to begin these thoughts with 'wow'! But a word such as that, with its imagery of showiness and self-confidence, is perhaps a wholly inappropriate response to a brilliant work of fictional biography that is spare, understated and refined (characteristics that could also be used to describe its subject, Henry James, if this partial portrait of him is at all accurate). Let me just say at this point then that 'The Master' is a masterpiece.

What we have is an imagined but clearly well-informed re-creation of four or five years of the life of author Henry James. (Indeed, there is at the end of the story a list of the books, letters, notebooks and experts that writer Colm Toibin read or consulted before embarking on the novel.) I must confess that I have not read any of James's work (though I am familiar with some of his stories, e.g. 'The Turn of the Screw', through film and TV adaptations of them). But it seems to me that, in 'The Master', Colm Toibin very convincingly enters the life and the mind of the great American writer. He takes us from the failure of James's play 'Guy Domville' in London in 1895 and the impact on James of the success of Oscar Wilde's stage work in contrast; to Wilde's trial and the scandal it caused (and, by inference, the effect it had in reinforcing James's innately guarded approach to matters of the heart); to the death of James's sister Alice and that of his strong-willed father; and to the purchase by James of a house in Rye (in southern England). Underpinning much of this - and the many other events in James's life described in the story - is James's seemingly repressed homosexuality. It's a fascinating tale.

Toibin writes beautifully. His prose is measured and elegant. And his insights and analysis seem to be very perceptive and, at times, very poignant. I was particularly struck by the articulate but restrainedly emotional account of the death of Alice. And James's uneasiness and perturbation at reluctantly having to share a bed platonically one night with Oliver Wendell Holmes is very realistically expressed. There are many other such vignettes in a novel that runs to over 350 absorbing pages. It cannot be easy to write a fictional biography of someone as well-known as Henry James and to try to get inside the mind and the emotions of such a highly-regarded writer who seems to have had an evasive and very reserved personality. But Toibin does so brilliantly in this subtle, calm, discerning and very readable work. I can pay it no greater compliment than to say that it has made me very keen to read some of James's novels (and to explore some of Toibin's other stories). 'The Master' is a wonderful book - historical fiction at its very best! 10/10.

R
This is a deeply poignant book. I liked how Toibin wove themes and characters from James' novels into the story of James' life, creating a portrait of a hyper-sensitive spirit who moves through life both starving for and terrified of intimate connection. The portrait of James' ambivalence about people and relationships is totally convincing and full of nuance.

The enigma of James' sexuality was handled in a subtle and nuanced way. It's a fantastic fictional evocation of "the closet" - a person s This is a deeply poignant book. I liked how Toibin wove themes and characters from James' novels into the story of James' life, creating a portrait of a hyper-sensitive spirit who moves through life both starving for and terrified of intimate connection. The portrait of James' ambivalence about people and relationships is totally convincing and full of nuance.

The enigma of James' sexuality was handled in a subtle and nuanced way. It's a fantastic fictional evocation of "the closet" - a person so closeted, he's not even out to himself. I felt Toibin did a very elegant job of dealing with James' sexuality without anachronism. The un-nameable and inadmissible quality of his desires, or the desires that he might have had if it had been socially and psychically possible for him. The layers of personal and social inhibition are also sensitively handled: obviously there were men in James' time who knew their own homosexual/homoerotic desires and pursued them privately despite social prohibition, but James' psyche was much more stunted and occluded than that. (A typically un-subtle and un-nuanced reaction from the Slate Audio Book Club: one of the members offhandedly said that this novel "claims that James had an affair with Oliver Wendell Holmes." Well, not so much.)

The novel is... dare I say ... JAMESIAN in its handling of the psychological weight that can hang on the most minute interactions and, even more, the avoidance of minute interactions. Like James himself, Toibin captures the heaviness of silence, of the unspoken, of an averted glance or unanswered question. He also depicts the sensitive, lonely protagonist as passive-aggressive and cruel, for example in his relationship with Constance and the months preceding her suicide. And he persuades me that a person could at once be obsessed with other people and relationships, and almost pathologically avoidant of them.

The book leaves me wondering about the relationship between art and the artist's psyche... could James have written as he did if he had been a more "emotionally healthy" person, i.e. one able to speak openly and connect with other people? How did his unique achievement as a novelist -- the attention to nuance, the psychological realism and complexity, the thorough representation and analysis of those moments between people when "nothing happens" and yet everything is altered -- relate to his damaged psyche? Maybe those questions are sophomoric. But in reading this book I enjoyed thinking about them.

Merry Christmas to me! this book was a true Christmas vacation treat.
Therese
This is a historical novel about the life of the writer Henry James.

On the one hand, I'm surprised by the level of critical success this book achieved. (It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and on several Top Ten Books lists for the year.) The pacing is slow - we're talking snail speed, here - and while there was dramatic tension within individual chapters and scenes, there is none whatever between chapters. If this were a debut novel, I wonder if it would ever even have found a publishe This is a historical novel about the life of the writer Henry James.

On the one hand, I'm surprised by the level of critical success this book achieved. (It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and on several Top Ten Books lists for the year.) The pacing is slow - we're talking snail speed, here - and while there was dramatic tension within individual chapters and scenes, there is none whatever between chapters. If this were a debut novel, I wonder if it would ever even have found a publisher in today's rabid publishing economy. The scenes and events the author narrates often seem trivial or seemingly fail to add up to a coherent, meaningful narrative structure. Henry buys a house in a small English seaside town. Huh. His servants drink too much, and he has to let them go. Okay. A hot American sculptor comes to visit, but then he goes away. A cynic could ask, why should I care?

Maybe as a biographical novel, the book suffers from the same malady that often plagues autobiographical writing - sticking too closely to the truth at the expense of dramatic tension and a proper plot arc.

In some cases, Toibin also misses opportunities to dramatize incidents instead of merely describing them - I'm especially thinking of the chapters with James's friend Constance Fenimore Woolson, who commits suicide. Toibin tells us again and again that this is a special friendship and that Constance has unique qualities, but we get barely any dialogue between them to show us what their friendship was like and why it meant so much to James. Similarly with James's sister Alice - she's described in abstract terms, bitter, joking, but we don't really see her or get her voice.

On the positive side, I found myself consistently charmed by Toibin's prose. It wasn't a page-turner, but I always looked forward to getting back to it, and I enjoyed spending time in Henry James's quiet company. Also, the historical research Toibin incorporated into the book gives it great value (and probably represents an immense amount of work), and I think makes up for many of the above-mentioned flaws. On the whole, I liked the book, and it was worth reading, especially if you are a fan of Henry James.
Eveline Chao
Incredibly moving, very beautiful, very sad. Kind of a terrifying thing for any writer to read because it's sort of a worst-case-scenario portrayal of the writer mentality - the desire for solitude, a sense of detachment from the world, a feeling that you're always observing rather than participating in experiences and storing them up to use in your work. A haughty old Baroness says to James at one point, while bitterly reminiscing about their youth, "We all liked you, and I suppose you liked us Incredibly moving, very beautiful, very sad. Kind of a terrifying thing for any writer to read because it's sort of a worst-case-scenario portrayal of the writer mentality - the desire for solitude, a sense of detachment from the world, a feeling that you're always observing rather than participating in experiences and storing them up to use in your work. A haughty old Baroness says to James at one point, while bitterly reminiscing about their youth, "We all liked you, and I suppose you liked us as well, but you were too busy gathering material to like anyone too much. You were charming, of course, but you were like a young banker collecting our savings. Or a priest listening to our sins. I remember my aunt warning us not to tell you anything."

Inevitably I identified with a lot of this, as I think most writers would, especially the constant inner conflict between wanting to be around and be close to people, and simultaneously wanting to be alone so you can think and write...but then as the novel goes on and his total inability to emotionally engage with people becomes more and more pronounced this identification gives way to fright and it's like, Noooo! Don't end up like Henry James!

Anyway, while most of the book was incredibly absorbing, there were also long stretches that were so passive that they verged into being boring. I'm not actually sure how this could have been avoided, since the whole point of the novel is how deeply interior James is and this sharp contrast between nothing happening on the surface and all the action being in his head, but I do wish there was some way around half the sentences in the book beginning with "He then thought..." or "He remembered..." or "He wondered..."

I also wish I had read "The Remains of the Day" by Ishiguro because I would like to compare these two works. I have read all of Ishiguro's other books though and was immediately struck reading this by the similarity in themes and tone of voice - it's like the beginnings of the syllabus for some college course about repressed male protagonists.
Margie Taylor
Colm Tóibín's 2004 novel is a hybrid - not totally fiction, not purely biography. The proper name for it, I think, is creative nonfiction, although there are so many interpretations of that genre that it's difficult to categorize. The Malahat Review awards its Constance Rooke Creative Nonfiction Prize to "the best work submitted to the magazine’s annual contest for a genre that embraces, but is not limited to, the personal essay, memoir, narrative nonfiction, social commentary, travel writing, h Colm Tóibín's 2004 novel is a hybrid - not totally fiction, not purely biography. The proper name for it, I think, is creative nonfiction, although there are so many interpretations of that genre that it's difficult to categorize. The Malahat Review awards its Constance Rooke Creative Nonfiction Prize to "the best work submitted to the magazine’s annual contest for a genre that embraces, but is not limited to, the personal essay, memoir, narrative nonfiction, social commentary, travel writing, historical accounts, and biography, all enhanced by such elements as description, dramatic scenes, dialogue, and characterization." Making CNF, in my humble opinion, an exciting, even exhilarating, venture for both writer and reader.

In the case of The Master, Tóibín has chosen to inhabit the consciousness of Henry James, one of the greatest novelists in the English language. I'll leave it to the James scholars to say whether or not he pulls it off, but I will say that Tóibín draws a compelling portrait of a complex individual whose ambiguous sexuality both informed and hindered his writing. It also makes me want to reread James. So watch this space.

Tóibín has chosen as his time frame the five-year period which James's earlier biographer, Leon Edel, calls the treacherous years. It begins in January 1895 with the staging of "Guy Domville", a mortifying disaster that effectively ended James's relationship with the theatre, and ends in October 1899 with Henry - as Tóibín refers to him - beginning work on the masterpieces of his later years: The Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors, and The Golden Bowl. Having left America to settle in Europe as a young man, Henry is now in his 50s and living mainly in London. The restless, rootless life of an expatriate is beginning to weigh on him. He's accomplished a great deal as a writer, but his books, which were never read by the masses, are dwindling in popularity. His attempt to find a new audience through drama has proved a failure. And, it has to be said, he's lonely.

In the aftermath of the public humiliation caused by the failure of his play, Henry escapes to Ireland, where he's the guest of Lord Wolseley, Commander-in-Chief of the army. There he's waited on by an attractive young corporal named Hammond, who seems to be willing to be more than a manservant if Henry will give the word. Henry, being Henry, says nothing. Back in London, he learns that Oliver Wilde is going to trial, an event which he views it with a kind of fascinated horror. He has no love for Wilde, who, in terms of discretion, is his polar opposite, and finds his behaviour outrageous and appalling. Still, like everyone else, he wants to know the details.

In many ways, The Master is a story of ghosts. Dead friends and family members haunt Henry James - or rather, as a writer, he haunts them. Two women in particular occupy his thoughts: one is his sister Alice, who died of breast cancer at the age of 43, and the other is his cousin, Minny Temple, an attractive, energetic young woman who died in 1870 when she was only 24. She was the model for Isabel Archer in The Portrait of a Lady; he will return to her again as Milly Theale in The Wings of the Dove. Now, almost 30 years after her death, he wonders: does he prefer her dead to alive, so he can write her the way he wished her to be? "He could control her destiny now that she was dead, offer her the experiences she would have wanted, and provide drama for a life which had been so cruelly shortened". It's thoughts like these (if indeed Henry had them) that reveals a pretty cold, bloody-minded nature - reveals him, in other words, as a born writer.

As for his sister, Alice, she was aggressive and intelligent and possessed an acerbic wit. In her own words, she was born a few years too soon. Overshadowed by her brothers, she chose - or was chosen by - illness, and spent most of her life in bed, cared for first by her parents, then by Henry, and finally by the educator, Katharine Peabody Loring. Henry, while feeling that he failed his sister by not inviting her to live with him, firmly believes he had no option. Alice would have been too much of a distraction - the work comes first.

Work, in fact, comes before everything: before family, before pleasure, before intimacy. The people he meets, especially those he cares for, are important mainly because of what they bring to his writing . . . what he can use. The Henry James we read in this book is happiest "alone in his room with the night coming down... and pen and paper and the knowledge that the door would remain shut until the morning came and he would not be disturbed".

In terms of a plot, there's not much to hang your hat on. He travels, attends social evenings, and makes peace with William, his older brother. In 1897 he leases and eventually buys Lamb House in Sussex, where he lives for most of the rest of his life. He brings his longtime servants with him and ends up having to sack them for drunkenness. That same year his close friend, Constance Fenimore Woolson, commits suicide, and he faces accusations from another friend that he might have saved her if he'd visited her in Venice as he promised. He does return to Venice to help clear out her apartment; while there he takes part in a rather bizarre ritual which Tóibín definitely did not invent: with the assistance of her favourite gondolier, he rows out to the deepest part of the Venetian lagoon and, one by one, drowns all of her dresses.

Tóibín, who's never made a secret of his own homosexuality - why should he? - gives full rein to his subject's repressed homoerotic leanings. He imagines the conflict Henry experienced as a young man lying naked next to his friend, Oliver Wendell Holmes. He refers, in passing, to his long-ago passion for Paul Joukowsky, a handsome young man he met in Paris. And late in the book, on a visit to Rome, he describes Henry's meeting with the young Norwegian-American sculptor, Hendrik Andersen, with whom he falls in love and to whom he remains devoted until his death.

For decades Henry James's descendants fought to keep his sexuality a secret. The cat was let out of the bag for good in 1990 when Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick proposed that we read James as "a gay writer whose efforts to remain in the closet gave him his style". Her argument, Tóibín writes, "removed James from the realm of dead white males who wrote about posh people. He became our contemporary".

Colm Tóibín's to be commended, I think, for not trying to mimic James's style. For those who find "the Master" hard going at times - and here I'm referring to the individual, not the novel - this is a good thing. The Master is an intelligent, remarkable novel about a writer, dead for a century, who deserves to continue to be read.
Knautiyal
I went into this never having read any of Henry James' novels; hell, I couldn't even name one off the top of my head, though "A Portrait of a Lady" sounded vaguely familiar after I searched on the store. But it didn't matter one bit, because this novel really is that marvelously written.

I'd been drawn in by the premise alone - an empathetic, emotionally observant writer, one of the most brilliant of any age, is, in his personal life, completely unable to let himself succumb to his deepest desires I went into this never having read any of Henry James' novels; hell, I couldn't even name one off the top of my head, though "A Portrait of a Lady" sounded vaguely familiar after I searched on the store. But it didn't matter one bit, because this novel really is that marvelously written.

I'd been drawn in by the premise alone - an empathetic, emotionally observant writer, one of the most brilliant of any age, is, in his personal life, completely unable to let himself succumb to his deepest desires and passions, resulting in the emotional destruction of the women who loved him and the puzzled frustration of the men who were equally drawn to him. How could a man so in tune with the nuances of human relationships be so utterly at a loss when it came to living out this understanding in the real world?

It's hard to say whether James really was happy with what his life eventually became. His solitude in a comfortable English mansion writing novel after novel appeared completely consistent with what it seems like he always wanted. But what then are we to make of his recurrent longing for men such as Andersen and Holmes that he never fully allows into his conscious mind? And then, just as we've slowly convinced ourselves that his emotional distance masks a deeply unhappy and unsatisfied soul, we reach the conclusion of the novel; and there we are left to wonder - if James really was so tormented with unquenched desire, why then does he seem so content when his brother's family leaves after a visit of a few months and he's once again completely alone?

Colm Toibin penned a true masterpiece here. I can't wait to read some of his other novels, and maybe one of these days, I'll be able to give one of James' a try too. Highly recommended.

JodiP
Now that I finished, I find it amazing that I nearly did not read this book. It was actually the trunk of my car awaiting return to the library, when I needed something to read while meeting a friend for lunch. I told her about the book, stating that I was having difficulty getting into it, but kept returning to it because the writing was so fine. I'm so glad I got hooked again and savored it over the course of a week. I learned a lot about Henry James, and am now inspired to read his own writin Now that I finished, I find it amazing that I nearly did not read this book. It was actually the trunk of my car awaiting return to the library, when I needed something to read while meeting a friend for lunch. I told her about the book, stating that I was having difficulty getting into it, but kept returning to it because the writing was so fine. I'm so glad I got hooked again and savored it over the course of a week. I learned a lot about Henry James, and am now inspired to read his own writing. I loved how the author moved back and forth in time and speculated how James' various novels came into being. His yearning for the sculptor Hendrik Andersen is heartbreaking. There was a particularly moving passage when Henry and Henrik visit the Protestant Cemetery in Rome: "Henry felt acutely the sculptor's presence; he liked being beside him, the silence broken by Birdsong, with only cats for company; and the sons of the dead, including the tragic young poet, deeply arrest, protected in warm, rich earth. And the air all around, the clear sky and the secluded spaces of the cemetery, proclaiming that with rest can the and of sorrow; and this rest seem to him now, on a May morning in Rome, suffused with love or something close to it." The rhythm and the imagery of this passage are so striking. I am sure to seek outToibin's other work as well.
Gabriela
This is not a light read, but that only makes it all the more delightful. If you like James, you'd probably enjoy this thoroughly if only because Tolbin makes a great job at evocating his writing style.

The book builds a world in which the protagonist moves slowly, quiet and sharp, and where regular conversations become an elaborate dance of subtleties and hidden meanings.. especially because they're so scarce that they are all the more important when they happen. The silence in the prose is calm This is not a light read, but that only makes it all the more delightful. If you like James, you'd probably enjoy this thoroughly if only because Tolbin makes a great job at evocating his writing style.

The book builds a world in which the protagonist moves slowly, quiet and sharp, and where regular conversations become an elaborate dance of subtleties and hidden meanings.. especially because they're so scarce that they are all the more important when they happen. The silence in the prose is calm and inviting, and perfect for the way the book is laid out, between the past and the present, reminiscing of old acquaintances and moments or working his way through current affairs in a jumble of thoughts and actual events.

It can be purple prosey at (very few) times, but its rich depictions of life make up for it. It is also wonderful how everything seems to get tied up, and how you can get invested in Henry's feelings and liasons, having read about each person and his relationship to them in different stages and levels of intimacy.

I can't vow for its historical accuracy, though it is quite accurate on names and places, but it is a brilliant read if you like well-traveled english writers with an introvert disposition and detailed prose. I love it, and it would be a while for this book to leave me.
Mag
This is a creative biography of Henry James. The book shows Henry James as an acute, albeit passive, observer of life. He doesn’t express opinions or take active part in any aspect of life from politics to sexuality. His life is full of avoiding life, and he seems to be solely expressing himself in writing. He is shown thriving on stories and happenings of others, which he reworks into his own literary creations. He is juxtaposed with Oscar Wilde, who serves as an anti-thesis of James, and at th This is a creative biography of Henry James. The book shows Henry James as an acute, albeit passive, observer of life. He doesn’t express opinions or take active part in any aspect of life from politics to sexuality. His life is full of avoiding life, and he seems to be solely expressing himself in writing. He is shown thriving on stories and happenings of others, which he reworks into his own literary creations. He is juxtaposed with Oscar Wilde, who serves as an anti-thesis of James, and at this backdrop Toibin examines Henry James’ thoughts on writing and success.

On the whole, the book did not meet my expectations, and it was perhaps its biggest fault. Since Henry James came from a family of thinkers, I expected more philosophical discourse, witty remarks and arguments, some of which could actually be found by the end in his discussions with his brother- William. James himself is known for awfully convoluted speech and pompous behaviour, and there was none of it in the book. If I treat it as a novel, I am much more at peace with it, and much more appreciative of its merits, and its subtle and elegant language.
I actually liked it much more during the second reading when all my expectations were gone.
Angela
Every so often you read one of those books that reminds you what you've always wanted to do. The Master, a fictional account of Henry James's life, is beautiful. James spends his days reading and writing, frequently accepting guests into his home. He travels Europe and is acquainted with fellow writers and esteemed persons. And as this novel delves into his life, and explores the inner workings of his mind, I got sucked into it because I, too, had once planned to live the life of a writer.

Perhap Every so often you read one of those books that reminds you what you've always wanted to do. The Master, a fictional account of Henry James's life, is beautiful. James spends his days reading and writing, frequently accepting guests into his home. He travels Europe and is acquainted with fellow writers and esteemed persons. And as this novel delves into his life, and explores the inner workings of his mind, I got sucked into it because I, too, had once planned to live the life of a writer.

Perhaps I'll get back to that.

Admittedly, I haven't yet read Henry James (shameful). It's said that this novel reflects his style, which motivates me all the more to pick up his books. It doesn't have a fluid narration—it's not about just one thing; it's about everything. It jumps back and forth between present and past. I love the parts about actual writing. I picture him pacing his home, speaking the lines out loud, mentally revising them even as he says them. For a writer, it's a beautiful image.

Someone who's actually read his novels would get even more from this. There are a lot of references, and it seems many of his stories were inspired by true events. I may read this one again some day, when I've properly educated myself in his works.
Elizabeth
A biographical novel told in episodes spanning 1895-1899 when James was in his fifties and looks back at his life and relationships. Subtle and restrained, carefully shaped. Toibin evokes James, recreating him from the record of his life. Toibin's style and narrative method suggests the work of James, allowing a complex perspective of a man and a writer. We learn of James' relationships with family and special friends - female and male. Toibin explores James' sexuality and his carefully maintain A biographical novel told in episodes spanning 1895-1899 when James was in his fifties and looks back at his life and relationships. Subtle and restrained, carefully shaped. Toibin evokes James, recreating him from the record of his life. Toibin's style and narrative method suggests the work of James, allowing a complex perspective of a man and a writer. We learn of James' relationships with family and special friends - female and male. Toibin explores James' sexuality and his carefully maintained distance from worldly embroilment. Toibin attempts to recreate James and his motivations and morals, but is careful not to stretch his source material or overstate his own opinion, allowing us space to make up our own minds. Not always an easy read, being dense and reflective, but then, in recreated scenes, the book comes to life to the extent I felt I was in the room with James.

Of special note are the explorations of James' relationships with women, including his sister Alice, his beloved cousin Minny Temple and the novelist Constance Fenimore Woolson. Amongst other things, this gives insight into James' understanding and sympathy for women in his fiction.

This is a masterful book and worth careful reading.
Tiffany
1/5/13
A few chapters in, and so far I'm loving the tone -- it sounds like you're really listening to Henry James' thoughts, given the style of his writing.

I'm also finding this to be sort of like a game -- James meets someone, describes them, and I think to myself, "Ooh! I wonder if that's going to be the inspiration for so-and-so in such-and-such story." It's also making me want to go find all of his books and short stories that I don't already own.

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1/14/13 r 1/5/13
A few chapters in, and so far I'm loving the tone -- it sounds like you're really listening to Henry James' thoughts, given the style of his writing.

I'm also finding this to be sort of like a game -- James meets someone, describes them, and I think to myself, "Ooh! I wonder if that's going to be the inspiration for so-and-so in such-and-such story." It's also making me want to go find all of his books and short stories that I don't already own.

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1/14/13 review

3.5 stars

The book is historical fiction about Henry James. It's really well-written: right off the bat, it *sounded like* James. I loved that!

As I read, I kept trying to place characters in James' life with characters in his book. He'd meet someone new, and I'd think, "Ooh, I wonder if that's the inspiration for Ms. So-and-So in such-and-such story."

The only bad thing is that reading this made me want to go back and re-read all of my Henry James stories, and buy all the short stories I'm missing. But no! I cannot! I must keep with my reading plan! No new books! No straying back to re-reads.
Ptreick
I'm not going to lie. I'm having problems with this one. I knew nothing about the book when I picked it up, and because I'm not always so quick on the draw, I was a good 30 pages in before I realized I was reading about Henry James.

And then I remembered that I can't stand Henry James.

I interned for a professor who wrote her dissertation on Henry James, and she once told me: "No one can think worse things about Henry James than I have."

Geez. I hate abandoning books, but I'm reaching my breaking p I'm not going to lie. I'm having problems with this one. I knew nothing about the book when I picked it up, and because I'm not always so quick on the draw, I was a good 30 pages in before I realized I was reading about Henry James.

And then I remembered that I can't stand Henry James.

I interned for a professor who wrote her dissertation on Henry James, and she once told me: "No one can think worse things about Henry James than I have."

Geez. I hate abandoning books, but I'm reaching my breaking point (and only 1/3 of the way in) with this one.

Update! I'm such a trooper. I finished this book, finally, and I have to say, that in the last 40 to 50 pages, I was really interested in the book, and started to appreciate the quiet dignity that is Henry James. Throughout the book, there are glimpses of what made Henry James the writer he is -- a few little gems that writers can appreciate about the writing process, using real events in a fictionalized setting.

But the payoff for me came too little, too late. Anyone looking for a nearly new copy for their shelves?
Jennifer Hu
One of the best books I've read in years. Keep in mind, I have a special fetish for the idea of Henry James. Just as "white people love the idea of soccer," so I love to read Henry James--but can never entirely get through one of his tomes unless it's because I had a grad paper to write about it. Thus, I read Colm Toibin's homage to Henry James and his mastery of free indirect discourse, the slow exploration of interiority, and the transatlantic experience. Delicious, delicious prose. I could pr One of the best books I've read in years. Keep in mind, I have a special fetish for the idea of Henry James. Just as "white people love the idea of soccer," so I love to read Henry James--but can never entirely get through one of his tomes unless it's because I had a grad paper to write about it. Thus, I read Colm Toibin's homage to Henry James and his mastery of free indirect discourse, the slow exploration of interiority, and the transatlantic experience. Delicious, delicious prose. I could probably qualify as a foodie; sure, I revel in the variety of textures and nuance of flavor in so-and-so's contemporary French cuisine; I save menus. But, like any foodie, I can also tell you sometimes that non-gourmet, even fast food burger hits the spot. In terms of literature, I never want a burger. I don't need 3 star Michelin/Nobel Prize, but I want the good stuff. It doesn't make you fat, doesn't cost more, so why?

Disclaimer: I do enjoy People magazine on occasion, though. And I consume my Facebook feed regularly.
Candy Wood
This was an interesting book for me... I didn't love it, but I didn't hate it. When I was reading it I was interested, but when I put it down I didn't really want to pick it up again. It is a pretty wordy book with not much actual action or even dialogue from page to page, rather description and inner-monologue. I did enjoy the aspects of this book that looked into the way the main character, a writer, came to write his work. You saw his inspirations, his method, his obsession with certain stori This was an interesting book for me... I didn't love it, but I didn't hate it. When I was reading it I was interested, but when I put it down I didn't really want to pick it up again. It is a pretty wordy book with not much actual action or even dialogue from page to page, rather description and inner-monologue. I did enjoy the aspects of this book that looked into the way the main character, a writer, came to write his work. You saw his inspirations, his method, his obsession with certain stories. As someone hoping to write a book in the future, this was very interesting to me. But I never came to care for any of the characters, except one, and didn't feel as if I had learned or changed much by the end of my reading.
Stephen
Ever so skillful and soulful, though the soul portrayed appeals more as artist than as friend. I have not read Leon Edel and thus don't know how accurate this portrait is. Does it have to be accurate if this is fiction ? Not necessarily. Colm Toibin inhabits a personality and is versatile in doing Nora Webster and Henry James. I did not pick up, however, what made James such an astute observer and moralist. A lot of him in this book is glancing.
My Goodreads friends gave 5 stars all. I commend to Ever so skillful and soulful, though the soul portrayed appeals more as artist than as friend. I have not read Leon Edel and thus don't know how accurate this portrait is. Does it have to be accurate if this is fiction ? Not necessarily. Colm Toibin inhabits a personality and is versatile in doing Nora Webster and Henry James. I did not pick up, however, what made James such an astute observer and moralist. A lot of him in this book is glancing.
My Goodreads friends gave 5 stars all. I commend to you the reviews by Ron Charles and Alex R and by Stef Smulders. Stef is not a native English speaker but appreciates James.
Karen
The Master is a novel based on the life of Henry James. It is beautifully written. Years ago, I read The Turn of the Screw, The Portrait of a Lady and Daisy Miller by James. I loved how Toibin interweaved his books in the narrative. Most of all I loved how the author described the life of a writer.
Cheryl
Wow - I really loved this book. It makes me want to read everything Henry James ever wrote, and re-read the few I have read, for now I will have new insight into the man, his life and his characters. Tóibín has such empathy for Henry, or Harry as his family call him. I loved picturing him in Rome, Venice, Paris and of course England. Never really wealthy but still able to have temporary lodging in all these places and more. I would love to see Lamb House! He is really a somewhat tragic figure ho Wow - I really loved this book. It makes me want to read everything Henry James ever wrote, and re-read the few I have read, for now I will have new insight into the man, his life and his characters. Tóibín has such empathy for Henry, or Harry as his family call him. I loved picturing him in Rome, Venice, Paris and of course England. Never really wealthy but still able to have temporary lodging in all these places and more. I would love to see Lamb House! He is really a somewhat tragic figure however, true love seems to have eluded him, yet he did have many opportunities. His brother William was interesting as well, though quite different.
Michael
Beautifully written and psychologically acute, this novel is — even by Jamesian standards — lacking in narrative momentum. In his fidelity to the facts of James's life, Tóibín seems to have neglected to give his novel the shapeliness that distinguishes fiction from biography. Still, this novel is so rich with beauties of phrasing, artfully constructed set-pieces, and nuanced insights into the creative process and its emotional toll on the artist, that I yearned for the whole to be even better.
Amanda
This book was quite dull and I didn't start getting into it until near the end. The main character is a selfish git who is frustratingly passive. The other characters are very flat. Women in the book tend to wither away and die after Henry lets them down. Toibin went to some lengths to preserve James's ambiguous sexuality - probably a good policy when writing about a real person but just frustrating for the reader. I found myself wishing he would just get it on at times. It also made me feel lik This book was quite dull and I didn't start getting into it until near the end. The main character is a selfish git who is frustratingly passive. The other characters are very flat. Women in the book tend to wither away and die after Henry lets them down. Toibin went to some lengths to preserve James's ambiguous sexuality - probably a good policy when writing about a real person but just frustrating for the reader. I found myself wishing he would just get it on at times. It also made me feel like avoiding reading any books by James in the future as they sounded unbearably boring.
Scott
This is a very meditative rumination on the interior life of Henry James. It jumps around chronologically but with good intention and illuminating effect. Clearly not the book for someone in need of a lot of action or plot, but as an insight into the private thoughts and motivations of a man clearly born ahead of his time, it is fascinating. There is a tenderness and affection that never turns maudlin and immediately transports the reader inside the experience of what it must have been like to b This is a very meditative rumination on the interior life of Henry James. It jumps around chronologically but with good intention and illuminating effect. Clearly not the book for someone in need of a lot of action or plot, but as an insight into the private thoughts and motivations of a man clearly born ahead of his time, it is fascinating. There is a tenderness and affection that never turns maudlin and immediately transports the reader inside the experience of what it must have been like to be both gifted and gay long before anyone could safely do anything about it.
Susan Gushue
This was a really brilliant book. It made me want to go back and reread all the Henry James I've read. It also made me think about myself as a person and reader. What do I get from reading? What do I give up? Is there a way to be an author and be engaged in life the same way as a less reflective person is? Thinking and living aren't the same.
I can't pinpoint what exactly in the book churned all these thoughts up but it was definitely the book's fault and it woke me up. It has sent me on a Colm This was a really brilliant book. It made me want to go back and reread all the Henry James I've read. It also made me think about myself as a person and reader. What do I get from reading? What do I give up? Is there a way to be an author and be engaged in life the same way as a less reflective person is? Thinking and living aren't the same.
I can't pinpoint what exactly in the book churned all these thoughts up but it was definitely the book's fault and it woke me up. It has sent me on a Colm Toibin jag.
Michael Holland
Interesting read about an American writer, Henry James, from the United States, who thinks of himself more if a Brit having lived their most of his entire life. The book deals with a lot of speculation and facts about James' private life, much of which may be true: the nature of his sexuality, his insecurity about is writing, his personal relationships, and how he despised his contemporary Oscar Wilde for his blatant flamboyance. This novel tends to be a bit dry, but it is challenging, and it is Interesting read about an American writer, Henry James, from the United States, who thinks of himself more if a Brit having lived their most of his entire life. The book deals with a lot of speculation and facts about James' private life, much of which may be true: the nature of his sexuality, his insecurity about is writing, his personal relationships, and how he despised his contemporary Oscar Wilde for his blatant flamboyance. This novel tends to be a bit dry, but it is challenging, and it is also quite fun in a number of places!
Megan
This was a tough read for me. The writing is fine. The storyline is just plain boring. Maybe its because I have never read any of Henry James's writing, but I just really struggled to care about his story, at least in this much detail. I found myself wondering what my life would read like if someone wrote a novel about me. Then I found myself thinking about how many millions and millions of lives have ben lived that would much more warrant a novel written about. Not famous people, just ordinary This was a tough read for me. The writing is fine. The storyline is just plain boring. Maybe its because I have never read any of Henry James's writing, but I just really struggled to care about his story, at least in this much detail. I found myself wondering what my life would read like if someone wrote a novel about me. Then I found myself thinking about how many millions and millions of lives have ben lived that would much more warrant a novel written about. Not famous people, just ordinary people making their way through life. Anyway, I am glad this one is done. Boring.
Alex
It's pretty audacious to make Henry James the hero of your book. Tóibín starts by showing us this deeply closeted, repressed guy: this is the Henry James we know. But then: he goes deeper, writing him as not just closeted but a coward, a selfish guy, and you're like whoa, hey. And then he goes even deeper and shows the terrible damage he's inflicted on everyone around him through his cowardice and selfishness, and you realize Tóibín hasn't made James the hero of his book; he's made him the villain. That's audacious.

Or something. This is a subtle book, and like the best books it acts as a mirror. Many of us have caused damage to some of those around us, in the course of being our shitty selves. We have varying amounts of angst about it. I have a lot of angst about my damage, and I'm not inclined to forgive Henry James.

Tóibín has talked about his "pure admiration for figures who, unlike myself, weren’t afraid (Oscar Wilde, Bacon, Almodóvar)," naming three more or less openly gay artists. I think he identifies with James, and I think there's some self-flagellation going on here. Not that I know anything about Colm Tóibín (Cull 'em Toe-BEAN, btw); I'm going entirely by the quote above.

So...how do you feel about your damage?
There's an ambush spoiler for Portrait of a Lady in the boring last chapter, be aware.
Sudhir
In The Master, Colm Toibin narrates the life and times of the American author Henry James, his family and his life during the Civil War. As he grew up, Henry James spent most of his time in England and Europe- he was more comfortable in the old world than new, ultimately taking English citizenship just before he died in 1916.
The Master describes in detail his relationship with his family, especially his brother William a celebrity in his own right and his relationship with women. It is hinted t In The Master, Colm Toibin narrates the life and times of the American author Henry James, his family and his life during the Civil War. As he grew up, Henry James spent most of his time in England and Europe- he was more comfortable in the old world than new, ultimately taking English citizenship just before he died in 1916.
The Master describes in detail his relationship with his family, especially his brother William a celebrity in his own right and his relationship with women. It is hinted that he may have been secretly in love with his cousin Minnie Temple. The book dwells at length on his relation with writer Constance Fenimore Woolson., the American novelist who spent most of her time in Europe, especially Venice and died there commiting suicide. Was it because of Henry who did not return her feelings in full measure? James remains celibate unable to come out and love. His relation with sculpter Hendrik C Andersen hinges on his gay tendency though it seems unrequited. Henry James remains closeted all through his life his sexuality never exposed.

Henry James is a bridge from old to new literature. A prolific producer of novels, short stories, plays, travelogues and essays, he kept himself busy throughout his life.

Colm Toibin writes long sentences liberally sprinkled with comas, until one forgets where it all started and what was it about. A sample: "He spoke, as he had not intended to, about the Rome he came to a quarter of a century earlier not because he wished, he said, to become nostalgic or mark the changes, but because on these occasions with old friends and some new faces, as the summer season was soon to begin, it was time to light a candle and go through the house and take stock, and this was what, in the Roman context, he briefly proposed to do." Phew!!
I haven't read Henry James. Was Colm Toibin trying to recreate his style? I don't know. Makes it a little hard to absorb the writing.
Lars Dradrach
Disclaimer 1. I still have no idea why I ever added this to my to-read list and I started reading it without any knowledge of it's contents.

Disclaimer 2. I have never read any Henry James novels even though i have The Turn of the Screw on my to-read list and even purchased the audio book by one of my audible credits.

First of all, this is a construct, a "fake" biography told in the 3. person by Henry James, as perceived by Colm Tóibín. It covers 5 years of his life starting with probably his bigg Disclaimer 1. I still have no idea why I ever added this to my to-read list and I started reading it without any knowledge of it's contents.

Disclaimer 2. I have never read any Henry James novels even though i have The Turn of the Screw on my to-read list and even purchased the audio book by one of my audible credits.

First of all, this is a construct, a "fake" biography told in the 3. person by Henry James, as perceived by Colm Tóibín. It covers 5 years of his life starting with probably his biggest professional disaster, the flop of his play at a London Theatre and follows him though his "exile" in Rye and several trips to Ireland and Italy. though the narrative we are treated to a series of flashbacks to Henry's earlier life all selected by Toibin to highlight the character of him as a person and writer.

Thoughout the Novel we get an insight into James as a purposeful isolated figure, who maintains his privacy at any cost, he deliberately avoids intimate relations to protect himsellf from hurt, but also to some degree to allow him to build a fictionary version of the relationship in his mind not tainted by the reality of life.

James are portrayed as a more or less unknowing homosexual who never takes the first step, even though he comes close at one point waiting outside an apartment the whole night newer daring to enter. Strangely enough given the view on homosexuals at the time, it's not so much the scare of public disgrace, but more the scare of intimacy or commitment that keeps him back. The flamboyant Oscar Wilde who's play replaces James's, is used by Toibin as a mirror image to James.

If two crucial situations his reluctance to commit even earns him criticism for being insensitive, first when he avoids inviting his sick cousin Milly to Italy and later when he distances himself from his close friend Constance Fenimore Woolson, probably the closest to a true-love he ever gets, causing her to commit suicide.

Even though James is portrayed as a troubled person who at times doubt himself, Toibin manages to convey a believable picture of James as a person who lives his life on his own terms in a dignified manner.

For me this was a pleasant surprise and a brilliant introduction to Henry James and I'm very much looking forward to reading some of his novels.

Chaitra
I think listening to the audiobook narrated by Ralph Cosham was a bad idea. He’s got the kind of voice I immediately relegate to the background. I wasn’t distracted by anything else, but I still had to force myself to focus on the words. Or maybe it’s Tóibín. I have trouble with British male authors nominated for the Booker. I’ve read his Brooklyn and was tepid on that book. And, I tried reading The Master a couple of times last year and didn’t get past the first few pages each time.

It’s a case I think listening to the audiobook narrated by Ralph Cosham was a bad idea. He’s got the kind of voice I immediately relegate to the background. I wasn’t distracted by anything else, but I still had to force myself to focus on the words. Or maybe it’s Tóibín. I have trouble with British male authors nominated for the Booker. I’ve read his Brooklyn and was tepid on that book. And, I tried reading The Master a couple of times last year and didn’t get past the first few pages each time.

It’s a case of me, not the book. It’s a fictionalization of a very short part of the novelist Henry James’ life, padded by frequent flashbacks. During the course of the period addressed by the book, he comes up with, among others, What Maisie Knew, The Turn of the Screw , and The Wings of the Dove. I don’t know if Tóibín meant for it to be a sympathetic portrait of the novelist. It doesn’t come across as such. He’s a person with a confused or repressed sexuality, very private and selfish. He’s one of those novelists in whose fictional work real friends, actual events, accurate descriptions of people’s houses can be found. Characters even mention that they’ve been warned not to tell him anything.

I found him to be remote. I’m not sure how much of that impression is due to the rather inflection-less reading. Because I went on Wikipedia to read about his life and found excerpts of his letters - they had a lot more aplomb, emotion and life than anything I heard in the book. Sometime in the future I’ll revisit this book, not on audio. I’m feeling dissatisfied with what I read, because even the end of the book had to be specifically announced to me with music. And even then I waited until the “this concludes the reading of” announcement, because I wasn’t willing to believe it was the end.
Mary
Colm Tóibín is one of my favorite authors, and this novel about Henry James might be my favorite of his books. Written in the very literary style of one of James's own 19th century novels, the book is organized as a series of incidents; something that happens in the present setting of the book--the final years of the 1800s when expatriate American James is living in England--evokes memories of an earlier event or time that is then recalled at length in the chapter. Each remembered vignette build Colm Tóibín is one of my favorite authors, and this novel about Henry James might be my favorite of his books. Written in the very literary style of one of James's own 19th century novels, the book is organized as a series of incidents; something that happens in the present setting of the book--the final years of the 1800s when expatriate American James is living in England--evokes memories of an earlier event or time that is then recalled at length in the chapter. Each remembered vignette builds on the portrait Tóibín is developing of James, and introduces the diverse cast of historical characters--Oliver Wendell Holmes, Oscar Wilde, Constance Fenimore Woolson, Minny Temple--whose lives influenced James and his stories and illuminate the world in which he lived. Like its peripatetic subject, the book globetrots through scenes set in the expatriate artistic communities in Rome, Florence, Venice and Paris, to summer society in Newport, and finally to the English seaside town of Rye, where James ultimately settled down to a contented life as master of his beloved Lamb House. It covers topics from the American Civil War to 19th century philosophical thought to the stirrings of Irish republicanism and handles the subject of James's sexuality (he is presumed to have been gay) with sensitivity, leaving the reader to decide if James's emotional reserve stemmed from his closeted lifestyle or if it was instead the natural result of viewing the world around him, and the people in it, as subject matter for his stories and books. Because of this, the book will probably be more enjoyable if you have a basic knowledge of James's oeuvre--part of the fun is picking up on Tóibín's nods to the genesis of books such as The Portrait of a Lady and The Turn of the Screw--but I don't think it's a prerequisite. (I want to go back and re-read a lot of them now anyway!)
Lynx2cross
Never heard of Henry James, but after reading this book I want to know more about him and his work. I was almost halfway in before I realized that I was reading about a real author from the late 19th-to early 20th century and even then didn't realize at first this was a fictional telling. All I can say is that I totally resonated with this Henry James, at least in the way he's portrayed in this fictional story. And as I began to read up a bit on the author of this book, I believe I tapped into w Never heard of Henry James, but after reading this book I want to know more about him and his work. I was almost halfway in before I realized that I was reading about a real author from the late 19th-to early 20th century and even then didn't realize at first this was a fictional telling. All I can say is that I totally resonated with this Henry James, at least in the way he's portrayed in this fictional story. And as I began to read up a bit on the author of this book, I believe I tapped into what his own motivation may have been in the telling of this story, it's possible that through research and even Henry James's own writing that the author of this book recognized something of himself, and identified with it, which is what happened to me when I read this book. And on the surface me and Henry James have nothing in common. And yet I found common ground, in his observation of the world around him, his internal dialogue and scrutiny of his own thoughts, navigating socially with people (he was not a people person, but anyone who knew him probably only suspected, but they couldn't help gravating to his effortless charm), love was always out of reach and on the periphery of his life, often viewed as mysterious and maybe even strange by others but he seemed vaguely aware and simply didn't care. He seemed to possess an innate empathy and understanding of the younger generation. The rest is about a renowned author, lots of travel and interesting people to meet along the way, and some descriptive details that have you picturing a seaside English town, even though you have never seen one before.
Jeremy
Henry James is the Master. And The Master is a book by Colm Tóibín about Henry James being, well, Henry James. Seems simple enough, and it is, but The Master doesn't treat Henry James as the towering literary figure that he is, but as a man, who is a working writer, someone who doesn't need, and maybe doesn't even want, the nomenclature of the Master. Beginning in 1895, and concluding five years later, Tóibín limits himself in the chronological story of James, often just called Henry by his frie Henry James is the Master. And The Master is a book by Colm Tóibín about Henry James being, well, Henry James. Seems simple enough, and it is, but The Master doesn't treat Henry James as the towering literary figure that he is, but as a man, who is a working writer, someone who doesn't need, and maybe doesn't even want, the nomenclature of the Master. Beginning in 1895, and concluding five years later, Tóibín limits himself in the chronological story of James, often just called Henry by his friends, and Harry by his family. Henry writes, he thinks of stories, takes notes for his stories. He suffers a professional humiliation, recovers after he moves out of London, where he hires a secretary to takes his dictation, and lets go of his drunk servants. People visit, and he makes visits. As plot go, there really isn't any. But it's the daily living, a sudden look, a gesture, a room, that sends Henry recalling moments of his life. Tóibín hasn't written a great reckoning of James' literary career. He has written about the mystery of writing and inspiration, and the not so mysterious aspect of writing, the actual writing from inspiration. Henry is very private and lonely, but that privacy and loneliness is what drives him. Tóibín writes like James, but doesn't outright mimic a James novel. It is a Tóibín novel through and through; thoughtful, introspective, carefully parsed, but not devoid of feelings and humor. To read The Master you don't have to have read the Master, but it most likely will set you out wanting to.
Michael
The book is a fictional treatment of a portion of the life of Henry James, set mostly in England in the 1890s. There are eleven chapters set at particular times within that period, but the book does go back in time at some points. It is a fascinating study of the life of a writer, who struggles with conflicts between his desire for intimacy and his yearning for solitude. It explores relationships with family, notably with his sister Alice and the difficult one with his brother William, and with The book is a fictional treatment of a portion of the life of Henry James, set mostly in England in the 1890s. There are eleven chapters set at particular times within that period, but the book does go back in time at some points. It is a fascinating study of the life of a writer, who struggles with conflicts between his desire for intimacy and his yearning for solitude. It explores relationships with family, notably with his sister Alice and the difficult one with his brother William, and with others, notably the fellow writer Constance Fenimore Woolson. James is presented as a closeted gay man, with attractions that he rarely, if ever, acted upon.

Most of the events in the novel occur inside of James' head, and his thoughts are set forth in exquisite detail. While the novel is slow at times, it is never boring. Toibin has a wonderful talent for exploring relationships among human beings and those involving James are presented with great insight and sensitivity. The sacrifices that one makes in pursuing the writing life are explored, along with the guilt involved in using real life events and people to develop story lines for novels and short stories.

I have always admired Toibin as a writer and this novel is well worth reading.
Sluggish Neko
The writing is beautifully crafted and the protagonist, the novelist Henry James, is brought to life in meticulous detail and yet, the book is so, so boring. It’s a series of set pieces in various fancy European houses where Henry interacts with various people in his life. And though it works as a deep psychological study into Henry James, his struggles with his closeted homosexuality and with his sorrows when close friends and family die, nothing really happens plot-wise.

This book might hold mo The writing is beautifully crafted and the protagonist, the novelist Henry James, is brought to life in meticulous detail and yet, the book is so, so boring. It’s a series of set pieces in various fancy European houses where Henry interacts with various people in his life. And though it works as a deep psychological study into Henry James, his struggles with his closeted homosexuality and with his sorrows when close friends and family die, nothing really happens plot-wise.

This book might hold more meaning to Henry James enthusiasts. I’ve read only a few Henry James short stories and novels so every now and then when he describes how a certain person or situation inspires a story, I would light up with a sense of recognition. Ah, so that’s how he came up with “The Turn of a Screw” or hey, that character from Portrait of a Lady was based on his cousin— cool beans, I guess. But a series of such moments doesn’t really make a good story. I found the people in his life like his sister Alice James and his friend Constance Fenimore Woolson far more interesting than James himself. It’s more like reading a literary thesis on Henry James. It’s well-researched and well-written, but as a novel, it’s dull reading.
Dennis
This is an imagined biography of the author Henry James, and examines his life, friendships, and relationships through the intricate viewpoint of his frame of mind. It is not clear how much is factual and how much is fiction, but reportedly the author sifted through mountains of research in coming to know his subject better. The result is a nuanced depiction of an important writer who was notoriously introverted, intuitive, and interested in the details of humans and their complicated motivation This is an imagined biography of the author Henry James, and examines his life, friendships, and relationships through the intricate viewpoint of his frame of mind. It is not clear how much is factual and how much is fiction, but reportedly the author sifted through mountains of research in coming to know his subject better. The result is a nuanced depiction of an important writer who was notoriously introverted, intuitive, and interested in the details of humans and their complicated motivations and interactions.

Honestly, the middle of the book was a bit of a slog, but it really pulled out towards the end when James was in Italy doing a sort of penance for Constance Fenimore Woolson, his friend and fellow writer who leapt from her Venice room three stories to her death after feeling betrayed by Henry James. The depiction of friendship, loss, betrayal, loyalty, and intimacy is evoked through beautiful prose much like that of the subject.

The life of Henry James is like a who's who of the rich and famous in late 19th Century America and England. And James liked to deconstruct society in his books. This book is beautifully written and a fine tribute to his talent.
Amanda
The best way to describe this book is "quiet." This is an intimate (and I assume fictional) look into the life of Henry James: his relationships past and present, his loneliness, his inspiration, his doubts and desires. Each chapter begins in James' present, then swoops into one of his memories. The past blends into the present as we learn more about the people in James' life and how he looks at the world. Themes of intimacy, boundaries, repressed homosexuality, introversion and loneliness come The best way to describe this book is "quiet." This is an intimate (and I assume fictional) look into the life of Henry James: his relationships past and present, his loneliness, his inspiration, his doubts and desires. Each chapter begins in James' present, then swoops into one of his memories. The past blends into the present as we learn more about the people in James' life and how he looks at the world. Themes of intimacy, boundaries, repressed homosexuality, introversion and loneliness come up again and again. The only fault of this book lies in its quietness. I often found my mind wandering because the story didn't keep me gripped, but that quietness held true to the tone of James' life. I will enjoy rereading this in the future as well as The Scarlet Letter and David Copperfield, which this novel made me incredibly eager to read!
Leslie Rutkowski
My new favorite book. My experience has been informed by Toibin’s narrative style, while I’ve been reading. I find myself observing my own experience as Toibin’s James might-looking for the story as I participate in the action of the “scene”. I loved the cadence of this book. Toibin starts a story and diverges from it with these delicious tangents, only to come back to the theme in the most satisfying way. There were scenes in this book that troubled me in the way that discovering some admired p My new favorite book. My experience has been informed by Toibin’s narrative style, while I’ve been reading. I find myself observing my own experience as Toibin’s James might-looking for the story as I participate in the action of the “scene”. I loved the cadence of this book. Toibin starts a story and diverges from it with these delicious tangents, only to come back to the theme in the most satisfying way. There were scenes in this book that troubled me in the way that discovering some admired person’s flawed humanity is troubling. I have been haunted by some of the images in this book. I have been wrapped up in the trappings of the time and places that are described. I am so sad to have finished this book and now want to read all of Colm Toibin’s work and all of Henry James’ and all of Constance Fenimore Woolson’s.
Celia Barry
This is an incredible book in many ways. A novel written in the style of novels 100 years ago. Long sentences, many characters, meaningful glances, nuanced conversation, detailed descriptions of parties and drawing rooms...I could almost smell the mustiness of old houses.

I admit to falling asleep a number of times while reading this book and then having to re-read chapters to remember who some of the characters were. I'm more used to books that require less concentration on the reader's part to This is an incredible book in many ways. A novel written in the style of novels 100 years ago. Long sentences, many characters, meaningful glances, nuanced conversation, detailed descriptions of parties and drawing rooms...I could almost smell the mustiness of old houses.

I admit to falling asleep a number of times while reading this book and then having to re-read chapters to remember who some of the characters were. I'm more used to books that require less concentration on the reader's part to absorb the story.

Very little action, many cerebral musings.

Interesting to read about a time when letters were written every day, invitations to parties often mean staying for the weekend or longer, friendships were built on spending long periods of time together.
David C Ward
Henry James in the 1890s as he fails as a playwright and feels that he and his books are out of time with death a constant presence. Told in a series of encounters, many with people who resemble characters in his novels, that circle back in time and show James as the observer who stands outside life and stores up incidents to be used in his writing. The other theme is the isolate existence of James - especially versus the outward pushing of his characters; the famous edict to ‘live your life’ is Henry James in the 1890s as he fails as a playwright and feels that he and his books are out of time with death a constant presence. Told in a series of encounters, many with people who resemble characters in his novels, that circle back in time and show James as the observer who stands outside life and stores up incidents to be used in his writing. The other theme is the isolate existence of James - especially versus the outward pushing of his characters; the famous edict to ‘live your life’ is repeated several times. James’ probable homosexuality is dealt with sensitively and his coldness to others, his opaqueness, unflinchingly. The ending is unsatisfactory: a family reunion with William that opens up new questions (the sudden appearance of spiritualism; the contrast in the brothers and other family issues) that are elided through sentimentality. Between three and four stars.
Charley Girl
Lost for words really and when you read a novel by Colm Toibin about Henry James it is difficult to feel as my words can do this book justice. Meeting the characters and how they came about into Henry James' life small stories within the book but I think what grabbed me the most is Henry's perspective throughout the book. During gathering and conversations he speaks from the other person's perspective. He was always wondering what the goal of the other person was by conversing or communicating i Lost for words really and when you read a novel by Colm Toibin about Henry James it is difficult to feel as my words can do this book justice. Meeting the characters and how they came about into Henry James' life small stories within the book but I think what grabbed me the most is Henry's perspective throughout the book. During gathering and conversations he speaks from the other person's perspective. He was always wondering what the goal of the other person was by conversing or communicating in one way or another.

I cannot give this book a proper review. Just read it.
Jim Jones
I love Toibin's non-fiction writing in the London Review of Books, but this is largely a failure. If he had written this as a straight biography of American novelist Henry James, I feel it would have worked better. His attempt to understand the motivations and inspirations of James in a fictional form left me bored, frustrated, and unconvinced. Parts of the book stand above the rest--a short story-like vignette of his problems with drunk domestic servants at this house in Rye worked brilliantly- I love Toibin's non-fiction writing in the London Review of Books, but this is largely a failure. If he had written this as a straight biography of American novelist Henry James, I feel it would have worked better. His attempt to understand the motivations and inspirations of James in a fictional form left me bored, frustrated, and unconvinced. Parts of the book stand above the rest--a short story-like vignette of his problems with drunk domestic servants at this house in Rye worked brilliantly--but mostly I felt like I was wading in mud to get through this.
Dom
A well crafted, flowing, intricate look into the life of one of the writing greats. Written like a novel, with content of a biography, it captures both lovers of fiction and non-fiction, alike. The book itself flows like a lovely stream, moving forward at a pleasant speed. As a fan of historical fiction, I much enjoyed the author's take on the events of Henry James' life, and the method in which he portrayed them.

A little gem of a read, and I would recommend!
Rita
2003.
Toibin has done it again! Another wonderful and wonderfully written book. So rich, so deep, so much food for thought, so much insight.

I think you could say Toibin here is portraying Henry James's inner life. I am wondering whether I have read any of James's novels yet? In the early 1970s Masterpiece Theater [US public TV] showed BBC dramatizations of a couple of James's novels [Golden Bowl and probably Portrait of a Lady] and they were enchanting. After that, I wanted to read the books, but 2003.
Toibin has done it again! Another wonderful and wonderfully written book. So rich, so deep, so much food for thought, so much insight.

I think you could say Toibin here is portraying Henry James's inner life. I am wondering whether I have read any of James's novels yet? In the early 1970s Masterpiece Theater [US public TV] showed BBC dramatizations of a couple of James's novels [Golden Bowl and probably Portrait of a Lady] and they were enchanting. After that, I wanted to read the books, but do not know whether I actually did. Even the TV productions made me feel somewhat like I was suffocating -- from the undercurrents in the silences and understatement of the dialog; I fear the books would be much 'worse' in that sense...

I know nothing about James's personal life. There is a standard 3-vol. biography by XXX; would Toibin's interpretation be about the same, or be different, I wonder.

Came across a saved review from 2002 about Theodora Bosanquet, who turns out to have been James's personal scribe during his last 10 years; this would be after the period covered in The Master, in which there is a noncommunicative Scot who does this work for James [after he develops RSI [probably] and it is painful for him to write using his hand].
"In 1924 Bosanquet published, in the Hogarth Essay series, a lovely memoir called Henry James at Work... This concludes with:
'Towards the end of his days his horror of interfering, or seeming to interfere, with the freedom of others became so overpowering that it was a misery for him to suspect that the plans of his friends might be made with reference to himself.'

This certainly ties in with one of Toibin's main themes -- that any time James felt the least bit of pressure from another person [e.g. pressure to become closer], he immediately withdrew, stepped back -- even with persons he enjoyed very much and felt very close to.

pp 108-09, about a month-long summer stay in New England at the home of the Temple sisters' aunt; 3 or 4 young men and the 3 Temple sisters spent all day every day together, sometimes on outings, but often just talking.
"He did not realize then and did not, in fact, grasp for many years how these few weeks -- the endlessly conversing group of them gathered under the rustling pines --- would be enough for him, would be, in effect, all he needed to know in his life. In all his years as a writer he was to draw on the scenes he lived and witnessed at that time: the two ambitious, patrician New Englanders [Oliver Wendell Holmes and William Dean Howells], already alert to the eminence which awaited them, and the American girls, led by Minny, fresh and open to life, so inquisitive, so imbued with a boundless curiosity and charm and intelligence. And between them much that would have to be left unsaid and a great deal that would never be known....
...[the next year, the last of Minny's life] she had written the words which Gray had repeated to him and which Henry thought now maybe meant more to him than any others, including all the words he had written himself, or anyone else had written. Her words haunted him so that saying them now, whispering them in the silence of the night, brought her exacting presence close to him. The words Minny had written were: 'You must tell me something that you are sure is true.'"

p 255
Later, after his close friend Constance Fenimore Woolson killed herself in Venice:
"He resisted the thought that came to him when he had written the letter and was alone. It had a heavy crushing force, and he held it from him for as long as he could. He allowed himself to think that Constance had not lightly taken up his time, nor had she lightly allowed her own emotions to become so focussed. She had been subtle enough and nervous enough to make her demands silently, but they were all the clearer and more emphatic for that. He now had to face the idea that he, in turn, had sent her powerful and subtle signals of his need for her. And each time it became apparent to him what effect they were having, he retreated into the locked room of himself, a place whose safety he needed as desperately as he needed her involvement with him.
She had been caught, as it were, in a large misunderstanding, not only in the state of his solitary, sedentary exile, but also in the idea that he was a man who did not, and would not ever, desire a wife. Her intelligence surely should have warned her that he would, under the slightest pressure, even out of fear, pull back; but his need and the quality of her sympathy came to outpace her intelligence, he thought. Nonetheless, she had been careful: she had acknowledged his needs and his reticence and was ready to make space for them, but when she moved too close, became too public, he rejected her.

290 [James novels]
[JAmes] was struck by how close the sculptor was to the eponymous hero of his own novel Roderick Hudson, publ. 20 years earlier. The American colony in Rome knew him as the author of Daisy Miller, and the more serious among them had also read The Portrait of a Lady -- the former a popular tale light in tone and impact, the latter more subtle and daring in its construction and texture. None of them however had ever read Roderick Hudson, even tho it portrayed a young impoverished American sculptor in Rome, with all of Andersen's talents and indiscretions, with his passionate and impetuous nature.
Clare
Four and a half stars. Quietly spectacular, subtle and deep. Best read alongside Google for impromptu background on the historical characters. And of course one should have at least a couple of James’ novels under your belt; would make no sense either rhetorically or substantively without that.

About memory, the influence of family dynamics (birth order is key), insanity and closeted homosexuality, as well as art, the Europe versus America question, and wealth.
Gerry
So well written. An idea of the man, an idea of the writing process. The feeling of repressed love, of the heartfelt observer, the way those observations, so felt translated to works and finally the family relations. A great last chapter, a great scene with everyone sitting around reading. Glad I'd also read Varieties of Religious Experience as it made that last chapter and the relation with William more meaningful. Kind of still in it.
Benjamin
Tóibín creates a fictional biography of Henry James, covering his life from 1895 to 1899. He lets James reflect on his past life, the impact of family members and friends on himself and his work. Tóibín's style is very much in keeping with James' approach to intense psychological analysis of his characters' inner lives.
Cathy
I could not put this book down over the winter break. The imagined (but based on biography and letters) life of Henry James in his European haunts, his relationship with his family, especially his brother William and sister Alice, his loves and regrets is fabulous. I've added a bunch of Henry James to my "want to read" list, with ghost stories at the top.
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