Customer Reviews


37 Reviews
5 star:
 (25)
4 star:
 (5)
3 star:
 (3)
2 star:
 (3)
1 star:
 (1)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favourable review
The most helpful critical review


45 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Life is a mystery and only sentences are beautiful."
Focusing on the life of Henry James, Colm Toibin's The Master goes beyond the usual "novelization" of someone's biography. Toibin has done a tremendous amount of research and has obviously read everything James has written, but he has so distilled this information that he actually recreates Henry James. Most remarkably, he does this while using the third person point of...
Published on 21 Sep 2005 by Mary Whipple

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars Dearest silence
From page 25 to page 359 ; Henry (James) " stood coldly ... he still did not speak... he did not speak and was careful to make no gesture .... he said nothing .. he did not reply ... he would not speak ... he remained motionless ... he remained silent ..; he knew there was no need to ask questions ... he did not say anything ... he was content not to move or speak...
Published 23 months ago by french reader


‹ Previous | 1 2 3 4 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

45 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Life is a mystery and only sentences are beautiful.", 21 Sep 2005
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Master (Paperback)
Focusing on the life of Henry James, Colm Toibin's The Master goes beyond the usual "novelization" of someone's biography. Toibin has done a tremendous amount of research and has obviously read everything James has written, but he has so distilled this information that he actually recreates Henry James. Most remarkably, he does this while using the third person point of view to tell the story, preserving the objective tone but bringing forth characters and events so vibrant with life that Toibin's James is the man we know from his novels, letters, and journals.
When the novel opens in 1895, James's play, Guy Domville, has been booed on its opening night. James, now fifty-two, has hoped for a career as a playwright, believing success on stage will put an end to "his long solitary days" and allow him to spend more time among actors, whom he finds fascinating. Described as "a great stranger...observing the world as a mere watcher from the window," James is a lonely, solitary figure throughout the novel, a man unable to form a committed relationship with anyone, either male or female, sometimes wanting companionship but not closeness, and always needing solitude to work. Through flashbacks, Toibin shows how James's early upbringing may have been partly responsible for his feelings of isolation.
When James begins writing his stories and novels, he draws inspiration from the people he knows best and the events which have affected their lives and his own. His sister Alice is the model for a child in The Turn of the Screw, his cousin Minny Temple is the inspiration for several of his most important female characters-in "Poor Richard," Daisy Miller, and Portrait of a Lady--and his brother Wilky's wounds in the Civil War provide James with details he includes in other stories. Virtually every aspect of James's life works its way into a story, and as he gets inside the psyches of his characters through his fiction, he reveals his own psyche, his sympathies, and his personal conflicts.
Toibin's dual focus on James's life and its embodiment in his fiction give powerful immediacy and verisimilitude to this novel, and one cannot help but feel an emotional connection to James. His connections to great families and writers whose names are well known, and to people willing to accept James completely on his own terms provide Toibin with unlimited source material. It is Toibin's own talents in ordering this information, bringing it to life, and revealing its importance, however, which make this masterful novel so important. Mary Whipple
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "I want to live, live like others live.", 2 Jun 2004
This review is from: The Master (Hardcover)
Henry James (1843 – 1916) was the first American writer to envision his vocation in global terms. He desired to be a literary master, but his recognition, however, did not come into its glory until the time between the world wars. The delicate, scrupulous, The Master, set during the four years of his life from January 1895 to October 1899, so beautifully portrays a period of melancholy, loneliness and longing, that one cannot help but be moved by James' life of self-imposed confinement.
Complex and emotional, the narrative, at once, centers on James' life in England, where he reflects, with a sense of wistful regret, on his childhood growing up in Newport and Boston, where ideas were sacred, second only to good manners, and where there was a pull between "an ordered community who knew god and an idealism." Henry's father was an unconventional independently wealthy philosopher and religiously imaginative. Henrys older brother William was the first American psychologist of notable status and was also a very astute and influential philosopher. Consequently, Henry and his siblings were constantly exposed to museums, libraries, theaters and art galleries. Henry's time abroad gave him a mastery of the French language suitable enough to get him started in the study of its literature.
Toibin's focuses on a period called "the treacherous years" when as the nineteenth century waned, and the influence of Victorianism diminished, the giant of American letters, then in his 50s, was trying to reinvent himself as a playwright. James did not feel at home in America, Europe, his profession, or his own skin. Drawing on a combination of rigorous fidelity and intelligent guesswork – Toibin recreates James' platonic relationship with Constance Fenimore Woolson, his adolescent attraction to Oliver Wendell Holmes, and his surreptitious crush on the young artist Hendrick Anderson. The reader witnesses the events of James' life before he wrote his final masterpieces. Toibin beautifully portrays an elegant world of Edwardian drawing rooms, lavish parlors, slowly burning candles, and masked balls. James feels the deep sadness of exile, knowing that he is alone, and an outsider. He is far too alert to the ironies, the niceties, the manners, and indeed the morals to be able to participate.
The Master is a graceful, terribly sad story of a lonely, introverted homosexual fated to spend his life almost connecting, staring through parlor windows, and recording with crystalline exactitude the minute struggles of the societies that surrounded him. From his apartment in Kensington, to his self-imposed seclusion in Lamb House, Rye, all he hears is the "vague cry in the distance, of his own great solitude." As he writes, his memory works like grief, the past coming to him with its arm outstretched looking for comfort. Toibin's achievement - the depiction of James that is in all its nuance, detail and tenderness, totally Jamesian - is absolutely extraordinary. Mike Leonard May 04.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Life versus art, 23 April 2005
By 
jfp2006 (PARIS/France) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Master (Paperback)
First impressions of "The Master" were of how obviously different it was from the writer's other Booker short-listed work, "The Blackwater Lightship", the only other of his novels I have so far read.
Where the previous novel was set in contemporary Ireland, here we are taken back in time to the end of the nineteenth century, and a fictionalised rendering of a period spanning some five years in the life of the American writer Henry James. As the century draws to its close and James advances through his middle years, it is very clearly a time for taking stock, for both retrospection and introspection.
The first important event in the novel is the painful, humiliating failure of James's incursion into writing for the London theatre, "Guy Domville", a failure counterpointed against the resounding triumph of Oscar Wilde's "An Ideal Husband" - while the opening words of the novel are "Sometimes in the night he dreamed about the dead..." The tone is thus set for a novel about failure, regret, and frustrated hopes. Thereafter actual events play a secondary role: there is no plot, but rather a series of episodes from James's life, episodes whose essentially inconclusive nature gradually builds up an impression of the emptiness at the heart of that life. Where Wilde is quoted as saying he had put his genius into his life and only his talent into his work, it becomes slowly and painfully apparent that James has so far channeled everything into his work, with the result that a distressing void has opened up in his emotional life. There are repeated discreet but clear references to emotional chemistry with men which might have developed into sexual relationships, but which didn't for reasons which the narrative tantalisingly never makes clear, implying thereby that James himself chose not to ponder such matters, to shut them out and concentrate instead on his next work of art.
The style of Colm Toibin's writing is very different from that of Henry James himself, and yet the same impression gradually seeps through to the reader: the impression of the chaos of human emotions, and their elusiveness when it comes to setting them down in words.
"The Master" is not an easy novel, and yet the reader eventually finds himself feeling both sympathy and pity for a writer who changed the direction of the English novel, but in doing so made sacrifices. Whether they were worth it is one of the questions Toibin's novel leaves unanswered.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Life is a mystery and only sentences are beautiful.", 4 Jan 2006
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Master (Paperback)
Focusing on the life of Henry James, Colm Toibin's The Master goes beyond the usual "novelization" of someone's biography. Toibin has done a tremendous amount of research and has obviously read everything James has written, but he has so distilled this information that he actually recreates Henry James. Most remarkably, he does this while using the third person point of view to tell the story, preserving the objective tone but bringing forth characters and events so vibrant with life that Toibin's James is the man we know from his novels, letters, and journals.
When the novel opens in 1895, James's play, Guy Domville, has been booed on its opening night. James, now fifty-two, has hoped for a career as a playwright, believing success on stage will put an end to "his long solitary days" and allow him to spend more time among actors, whom he finds fascinating. Described as "a great stranger...observing the world as a mere watcher from the window," James is a lonely, solitary figure throughout the novel, a man unable to form a committed relationship with anyone, either male or female, sometimes wanting companionship but not closeness, and always needing solitude to work. Through flashbacks, Toibin shows how James's early upbringing may have been partly responsible for his feelings of isolation.
When James begins writing his stories and novels, he draws inspiration from the people he knows best and the events which have affected their lives and his own. His sister Alice is the model for a child in The Turn of the Screw, his cousin Minny Temple is the inspiration for several of his most important female characters-in "Poor Richard," Daisy Miller, and Portrait of a Lady--and his brother Wilky's wounds in the Civil War provide James with details he includes in other stories. Virtually every aspect of James's life works its way into a story, and as he gets inside the psyches of his characters through his fiction, he reveals his own psyche, his sympathies, and his personal conflicts.
Toibin's dual focus on James's life and its embodiment in his fiction give powerful immediacy and verisimilitude to this novel, and one cannot help but feel an emotional connection to James. His connections to great families and writers whose names are well known, and to people willing to accept James completely on his own terms provide Toibin with unlimited source material. It is Toibin's own talents in ordering this information, bringing it to life, and revealing its importance, however, which make this masterful novel so important. Mary Whipple
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Life is a mystery and only sentences are beautiful.", 31 Oct 2004
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Master: A Novel (Hardcover)
Focusing on the life of Henry James, Colm Toibin's The Master goes beyond the usual "novelization" of someone's biography. Toibin has done a tremendous amount of research and has obviously read everything James has written, but he has so distilled this information that he actually recreates Henry James. Most remarkably, he does this while using the third person point of view to tell the story, preserving the objective tone but bringing forth characters and events so vibrant with life that Toibin's James is the man we know from his novels, letters, and journals.
When the novel opens in 1895, James's play, Guy Domville, has been booed on its opening night. James, now fifty-two, has hoped for a career as a playwright, believing success on stage will put an end to "his long solitary days" and allow him to spend more time among actors, whom he finds fascinating. Described as "a great stranger...observing the world as a mere watcher from the window," James is a lonely, solitary figure throughout the novel, a man unable to form a committed relationship with anyone, either male or female, sometimes wanting companionship but not closeness, and always needing solitude to work. Through flashbacks, Toibin shows how James's early upbringing may have been partly responsible for his feelings of isolation.
When James begins writing his stories and novels, he draws inspiration from the people he knows best and the events which have affected their lives and his own. His sister Alice is the model for a child in The Turn of the Screw, his cousin Minny Temple is the inspiration for several of his most important female characters-in "Poor Richard," Daisy Miller, and Portrait of a Lady--and his brother Wilky's wounds in the Civil War provide James with details he includes in other stories. Virtually every aspect of James's life works its way into a story, and as he gets inside the psyches of his characters through his fiction, he reveals his own psyche, his sympathies, and his personal conflicts.
Toibin's dual focus on James's life and its embodiment in his fiction give powerful immediacy and verisimilitude to this novel, and one cannot help but feel an emotional connection to James. His connections to great families and writers whose names are well known, and to people willing to accept James completely on his own terms provide Toibin with unlimited source material. It is Toibin's own talents in ordering this information, bringing it to life, and revealing its importance, however, which make this masterful novel so important. Mary Whipple
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent depiction of a lost world, 23 Jan 2006
This review is from: The Master (Paperback)
This novel is based on the life of Henry James, but you don’t need to be a James fan to enjoy it. The writing was evocative of the era and its society, including the casual presence of servants and the movement of the elite around centres of ‘civilization’ and ‘the empire’. I was struck by the emptiness of James’s life – the emotional emptiness – but the novel gave no clear explanation why it was like that. He had chances for physical and emotional closeness, with both women and men, but was never brave enough to take up any of them. Fear? Or an obsession with mentally noting it all to re-fashion it as fictional entertainment? There are traces of these ideas but nothing is ever explicit. Still, Tóibín writes beautiful, sustained prose that captures the gentility of a privileged world and the differing sensibilities of the Americans and the English.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written, but don't chance it if you haven't read Henry James, 18 July 2011
This review is from: The Master (Paperback)
I don't want to put anyone off unduly, or slight an otherwise fine novel, but I'm hard pressed to know what people will make of this book if they don't know a)much about Henry James's life and b) haven't read much of Henry James's work.

If you bone up on a and b above, then you can 'c' about reading this very fine book. Toibin does a nice job of emulating James's style, but as with some of James's novels, the plot is not exactly the most gripping and I think it only really makes sense if you can fill in the gaps with your own knowledge adnd understanding of the true significance of events that are only sometimes hinted at here.

I reckon if you take the plot of David Lodge's 'Author, Author' (also about Henry James) and beef it up with elements of Toibin's written stlye, then you'd really have a killer novel. As things stand both books are the curate's egg.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A modern novel, classically rendered, 11 Jan 2005
By 
ghandibob (Swansea) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: The Master (Hardcover)
There is perhaps hubris, perhaps not, in a very good contemporary writer novelising the interior world - the thoughts, the imagination, the desires (however hidden, restrained, checked) - of an author, firmly regarded to be one of the greats, indeed to be a master. That Toíbín has written such an elegant, engrossing book in these circumstances is exceptional.
The Master begins as Henry James's career stumbles on the stage of a London playhouse. He has turned from prose to drama, from the lonely world of a novelist, to the glamour, the youth, the beauty and, most of all, the companionship of the theatre. James shows his first play to London society, full of hope and excitement. And they scoff. Elsewhere, Oscar Wilde, who James cannot seem to bear, cavorts around town with the kind of Midas touch young boys on the street would do well to stay away from. The Irishman's plays are hits; Henry is devastated and confused and lost. His solution is to flee to Ireland, where no one will know of the disaster he feels his life to have become.
This is what Toíbín shows us: Henry James, in retreat from failure, slowly, carefully and sadly bearing his own weight back towards the heights his talent had taken him once before. It is a book about a writer who physically does very little, and yet the James whose thoughts we hear is someone who notices the world with such intensity of gaze that a moment in his company provides the meat of infinite dishes.
What fascinates in this book is the character of Henry, and those few he permits to get close to him. William, his elder brother, Alice, his sister, Constance, his great companion: these people are all so vivid because Henry thinks of them so vividly. The Master is a marvel of creation, not of plot; the novel engrosses because of those we get to meet, not because of what these people do.
Most of all, however, what Toíbín has done is to write a book that peels away the layers of mystery which surround the idea of a writer. Not in the hollow, diminishing sense of offering gossip and rumour about James's private life (his sexual predilection, though a constant theme of interest, is never addressed directly), but instead Toíbín allows the reader to understand what a writer is. He is someone who listens and watches and understands what is happening to him, and then has the imagination to extrapolate this knowledge into a new, fictional world. Henry's experiences mutate and extend throughout, filtered through his eye and turned, like a sculptor making something beautiful out of stone, into a unique artistic expression that never breaks entirely from the original out of which it was hewn.
I have very rarely read a book I was so happy simply to exist within. It is a place of refinement and, true, a place where sadness and regret and loss play as shadows on the walls, but it is a place where a fully shaped, exquisitely realised character resides. And it is a pleasure to meet Henry James as Colm Toíbín knows him.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fine biography of Henry James, 12 Jan 2007
By 
HORAK (Zug, Switzerland) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Master (Paperback)
A pleasant fictionalised biography of the novelist Henry James in which the author concentrates not so much on dates and events but on James's relationship with his family and friends. Actually Colm Toibin deliberately chose to write about a specific period of James's life, namely from January 1895 to October 1899 with a few flashbacks to tell about his youth in America before he settled in England.

We learn about the failure of his theatre play Guy Domville while Oscar Wilde was enjoying a raging success with an Ideal Husband, his subsequent departure to Ireland, the death of his wife Alice. Then he followed Wilde's imprisonment and the exile of his wife and children which impressed James very much. Often Colm Toibin describes how ideas for a new novel or short story matured in James's mind and how they were related to his daily encounters and impressions. James could write and read at leisure after the purchase of Lamb House in Rye where he enjoyed his solitude between the visits of his friends, his brother William, his sister in law Alice and Peggy, his niece. But it was after meeting the young and impetuous sculptor Hendrik Andersen in Rome that James realised that he himself was ageing slowly because he saw that Andersen was too young to know how memory and regret mingle, how nothing seems to have any shape or meaning until it is well past and lost.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Portrait of a writer, 25 Jun 2009
This review is from: The Master (Paperback)
In The Master, Colm Toibin offers the reader a style and content quite different from his other novels. In a sense, the book is an act of homage to Henry James, a recognition of a creative debt, perhaps, owed by Colm Toibin to the great American writer. On another level, like Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes, it is an attempt to enter an iconic writer's own creativity to highlight its insecurity and doubt. Current writers know full well that their offerings are rightly subject to critical analysis and comparison, with some critics apparently taking delight in automatically belittling contemporary efforts. But when we read a book that has achieved `classic' status, we often forget that in its own time it was treated no more reverently than current new issues. In The Master Colm Toibin manages to penetrate the creativity of Henry James, bringing his character to life via the creative process that seems to be at his very core.

Thus The Master is part biography, part family history, part observation of late nineteenth century society in England, America and in expatriate enclaves in Europe. It remains a novel, however, and its main character a fiction, despite the historical reality of both the setting and the achievement. And this becomes one of the book's strengths.

The story is a series of reflections from the past married with often apparently mundane family or personal events. Chapters are dated, beginning in 1895 and ending in 1899, but there is no linearity of plot, no story, as such, apart from the development of the writer as he responds to reflections on his family, life and relationships.

At the start, a play of his has just failed. Oscar Wilde's trial is in the news, commented upon alongside reports of London society and its opinions. It is here that Henry James laments the death of his sister, before soon describing his brother's participation in the American Civil War, a war that he, himself, declined to fight.

A suicide, that of a fellow writer, Constance Fennimore Woolson, has a profound effect on him. She was in Venice, a city that James then visits to assist her relatives with the necessary details. As ever, he is less than effective. In a later encounter with a sculptor called Andersen, James again comes close to standing idly by as events run past him.

The author is always on the outside, it seems, an apparently uninvolved, disinterested observer, always apart from experience he could potentially share. He prefers to retain this role, the observer, the listener, making as few comments as possible. He sees life as a mystery, with only sentences capable of beauty.

Ultimately, Henry James is cast as a selfish absorber of other's experience, the raw material he stores to regurgitate later as plot and content. He lives his own rather self-centered life through the recording and later embroidery of other's experience, others' emotion. His psyche is a writer's notebook, with human contacts neatly entered and filed for later literary use, his own emotions not revealed, or perhaps suppressed, his presence predatory. The Master is a remarkable achievement, a book whose writing mimics Henry James's own literal but complex style, itself a discipline.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 2 3 4 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

This product

The Master
The Master by Colm Toibin (Hardcover - 19 Mar 2004)
Used & New from: 0.01
Add to wishlist See buying options
Only search this product's reviews