Master (Review)


The Master
Colm Toibin, 2004
464 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
September 2009

A beautiful work! The title, by the way, refers to James's moniker. He became known as "The Master" due to the precision and elegance of his style and the complex, hidden depths of his characters—mysterious beings who are never quite knowable..not unlike we beings in real life.

Toibin has taken the many biographies of James and fashioned a poignant novel, a psychological study much like James's own novels. In doing so, Toibin permits us entry into the privileged lives of a very thin slice of American and British society—the rich and famous and accomplished, very much the people James wrote about.

Toibin shows us how James drew upon his experiences and the people he knew, how he worked those experiences over, gave them body, and created his stories. This ground has been covered before, but perhaps not so intimately as it is here.

James was close to three women in particular, two of whom ultimately he let down when they most needed his friendship. Sadly, he could let no one come too near his core nor demand too much of his affections. Toibin suggests that James, attempting to deal with his guilt, molded some of his most famous heroines in these women's images, as tributes to their memory.

I really love this work, though it can be a slow read with little plot. I suggest reading this work in tandem (over two months...or three) with James's fiction—especially one or both of the books recommended here. The Turn of the Screw is also wonderful.

Be sure to see our Reading Guide for The Master.

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