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on 6 February 2016
Couldn't get past the first few pages.
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on 8 October 2012
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 .. ; he looked at him and did not speak . ; he wondered how he would respond he did not think he could say anything .. he did not reply ...; it would be wholly proper for him to remove himself silently ... he did not know why he had agreed to tell his friend the story ...he had not known how to respond ...he sat there silently without speaking ...he did not know what to tell them...he did not speak ...he kept his stories secret...he did not suggest to her ...he did not speak to the girl...he decided no to ask her mother...he said nothing either ... he treasured silence...he could not tell her ; to let silence reign between them; they ate in silence; he resigned himself to saying nothing ...he was careful not to discuss this...he was unable to tell...he did not mention her ; neither of them spoke; he did not reply ... nor did he mention to anyone... he did not mention...he silently asserted; neither of them spoke he did not need to speak ; not having spoken to him...he could not tell; the silence between them had been restored he should not have spoken now ...he wondered how he would tell... he knew the effect his silences had on others...he would remain dumb now; the silence which had now descended; his silence might have been enough he did not tell them...he did not speak... he moved around relishing the silence and the emptiness"
Why ?
Watching but withdrawal from the world; to be in exile from his native land; to be in exile from the world and feeling protected by a kind of exile from life itself. Writing as a kind of revenge on what life or rather death kept away from you; a way of protecting oneself from too intense and thus dangerous feelings; a way of hiding what can be seen of the feelings with another man when people observe or not ; a way of playing with sense or escaping words without sense; or being able "to fancy the sound of her voice" or "to have imaginary conversations" ; but the mother's voice speak through a medium . And Henry reassures himself about mastering control of things, of people, of oneself....
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on 2 December 2010
A beautiful, pellucid novel that gets into the very particular mind, sad and anaemic heart of Henry James. Brings vividly to life the entire brood of the James' family, from William to Alice and their parents, as well as their principal connections in a way unmatched by biographies that I've read about them. Highly recommended.
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on 18 July 2011
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.
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on 16 September 2017
I've never read any of Henry James' works (who is the The Master) but it didn't prevent this being one of the most beatifully crafted and stylish books I've read.
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on 23 April 2005
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.
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HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERon 21 September 2005
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
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on 2 June 2004
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.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 5 April 2016
In his fictionalised biography of Henry James, Colm Tóibín slides us into the author’s thoughts with no background explanation. The five year period covered is 1895-99, when he was a celebrated author in his fifties, but with many lapses into past memories going back to childhood.

At first, I thought that a full appreciation of the novel would require a detailed knowledge of James’s style, plots and characters and that it would bewilder and bore those who know little or nothing about James. In fact, what turns out to be a subtle and perceptive book, may be enjoyed and admired simply as a portrayal of a sensitive loner who cannot help employing his acute sensitivity to observe others, conjuring stories out of small incidents, yet who goes to great pains to conceal his feelings, and who, despite a sense of loneliness, even loss, ruthlessly steers clear of commitment, even at the cost of destroying the lives of those he has used as source material. Somehow, he generally manages to avoid acknowledging this realisation, just as he represses the expression of his sexuality.

So it is that he uses his beautiful cousin Minnie Temple as a model for several stories, but is chided by his friends for failing to invite her to stay with him in Italy when she is sick and close to death. Did he simply fail to notice her appeal for such an invitation, or refuse to make it because it interfered with his work? Similarly, he enjoys a secret friendship with a female writer, breaking through the defences of her self-contained loneliness, without apparently realising until too late the depth of her need for his presence and love.

James is continually an indecisive mixture of self-delusion and self-knowledge. The book opens with his excitement over the possibility of becoming a playwright: “He foresaw an end to long, solitary days; the grim satisfaction that fiction gave him would be replaced by… voices and movement and immediacy that …up to now he had believed he would never experience”. Yet this alternates with the certainty of failure (as proves to be the case) which would force him to return “willingly and unwillingly, to this true medium”. In such complex and nuanced chains of thought, Tóibín captures a sense of James’s convoluted yet insightful, hypnotic prose, but without making the mistake of concocting wordy, interminable sentences in what would inevitably prove a parody of “the master”.

There are some lighter moments, as Henry James steers his way through a world of gossip. On a visit to Ireland, it is clear that the domineering socialite Lady Wolseley, believing him to be gay, assigns the handsome army corporal Hammond to act as his servant, “smiling strangely” over his apparent satisfaction with the arrangement. The whole issue of the author’s sexuality is treated ambiguously, as it no doubt was at the time.

One of the funniest moments is towards the end when, briefly reunited with his elder brother William, with whom there has always been a degree of sibling tension. William takes him to task for wasting his sharp eye and wide-ranging sympathy on the superficial, class-ridden English whom he can never understand. In an outrageous, misconceived yet telling outburst, he asserts, “I believe that the English can never be your true subject. And I believe that your style has suffered from the strain of constantly dramatizing social insipidity. I also think that something cold and thin-blooded and oddly priggish has come to the fore in your content…I find I have to read innumerable sentences you now write twice over to see what they could possibly mean. In this crowded and hurried reading age you will remain unread and neglected as long as you continue to indulge in this style and these subjects".

Not always an easy read, this has many brilliant moments.
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HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERon 4 January 2006
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
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