2007: 164. The Master


“Sometimes in the night he dreamed about the dead - familiar faces and the others, half-forgotten ones, fleetingly summoned up.”

The Master, Colm Toibin

This is a fictional biography of Henry James - an attempt to understand what made the master of obscure emotions tick.  It is a grand book (and I suspect if I had read more James, I would have been even more impressed, but I intend to rectify that ASAP).  It makes James seem real - repressed as hell, so afraid to feel that he causes unforgivable hurt to those who love him, a closeted homosexual (though he can barely allow himself to think about this aspect of his life), and a real, breathing, human, suffering, trying his best, but ultimately choosing the sanctuary of art over human interaction.  Wow, this is  good book.  Toibin creates an absolutely believable imperfect character, and manages to convince you that this is what Henry James was really like.  It works as literary criticism and biography, and it works in the way fiction (especially James’ fiction works) in making you understand the inner life of another human being.  And, does so without being as obscure as James can be.*  A profoundly human novel even if you have no interest in James, and it will probably make you have that interest when you’re done, anyway.

Recommended for: People interested in Henry James; people interested in how other people live their lives and deal with their emotions.

*Which raises a question - is Toibin’s prose clearer that James because (presumably) Toibin has accepted his own emotional life in ways James never could? Did the very emotions that he was suppressing cloud his texts? William James suggests as much in the novel, and it bears some thought, when I read whatever James I can get at the library today!

Date/Place Completed: 11/1/07; D.C.

Categories: Fiction; Library Book

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017