Tóibín, Colm. The Master. London: Macmillan, 2005 (2004).
I'll begin this review by confessing that my knowledge of Henry James is severely lacking; my academic studies, for the most part, bring my knowledge of the world up to a mere 1790, and James and his contemporaries are clearly much more recent. So while I enjoyed this book immensely, I'm utterly unqualified to remark upon the authenticity of Tóibín's portrayal of 'The Master,' or upon the prodigious amount of research that indubitably lies beneath the witty banter and strong characterisations that made this book such a pleasure to read.
The Master contains good writing at its finest: a pleasure to read, the words and descriptions flow gently off the page and into the reader's mind, creating an atmosphere of antiquated literary elegance even as the characters are fresh, understandable, and almost modern. Tóibín offers his readers a window into a life: the reader is not a part of the book, but an invisible presence lurking in the background. The narrative is straightforward, the descriptions at times heartbreaking (but always believable), and the novel even offers, subtly, readings of some of James' greatest literary pieces. I finished the book and wanted to read Daisy Miller again, feeling, somehow, that I suddenly had become an acquaintance of its author.
Well done, Mr. Tóibín, and thanks for a delightful read.