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The Master

3.81 of 5 stars 3.81  ·  rating details  ·  5,207 ratings  ·  565 reviews
Like Michael Cunningham in The Hours, Colm Tóibín captures the extraordinary mind and heart of a great writer. Beautiful and profoundly moving, The Master tells the story of a man born into one of America's first intellectual families who leaves his country in the late nineteenth century to live in Paris, Rome, Venice, and London among privileged artists and writers.
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Paperback, 339 pages
Published May 3rd 2005 by Scribner (first published March 14th 2003)
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64th out of 386 books — 451 voters
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Kris
I loved this book. I thought Tóibín did a beautiful job adapting his style to one that was evocative of Henry James, although more easily readable. The novel moves with James to London, Ireland, Italy, and Rye, and effectively integrates James' memories of the past in flashbacks that come as responses to his relationships, tensions, and interactions with others.

Tóibín has been described as a writer who is keenly interested in his characters' psychology and relationships, and this interest comes
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K.D. Absolutely
Apr 17, 2011 K.D. Absolutely rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to K.D. by: 501 Must Read Books, Man Booker 2004, 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006-2010)
Shelves: 1001-core, 501
The subtle third-person narrative of Tolm Coibin (born 1955) masterfully portrays Henry James (1843-1916) as person in this 2004 Booker-shortlisted novel, The Master. Covering a period of 5 years, 1895 to 1899, this includes his defeat at London Theatre when Guy Domville (1895) flopped, his self-seclusion in Rye East Sussex, flashback to his former life in America, before going back and ending the story in Rye.

I picked up this book because this is both a 501 and a 1001 and I have been postponin
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Brenna
Jun 25, 2008 Brenna rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: 1001
usually i get frustrated and bogged down when the pace of a book is as slow as this one, and when the plot isn't really the point. but i loved loved loved this book, and loved its carefully crafted, meditative prose style. i found myself reading much more slowly than i usually do and thinking more about what was being said, so for me it was more of an interactive experience than reading usually is, and i loved that. the sentence structure was more challenging than the books i guess i've been rea ...more
Steve
“Nuanced” is one of those great homological words. (“Polysyllabic” is the usual example – a word that describes itself.) When multiple blurbs for a book call it nuanced, you can bet it’ll feature more in the way of inner life and less in the way of plot. Of course, this can be good or bad depending on how skilled the writer is, how interesting the drill-downs are, and the extent to which the M.O. might otherwise be hackneyed or boilerplate. It’s like jazz standards. I’m not talking about the ivo ...more
David
Colm Tóibín is a genius. In this novel, he explores the life and work of Henry James, spanning the period from 1895 to 1900. His characterization of James is so subtle and - dare I say? nuanced - that I was forced to keep on reading. Even though I don't particularly like Henry James or his work, by the time I finished this book, I was motivated to rethink my dislike.

If you're a James fan, this is probably a five-star book for you. For the rest of us, it's somewhere between 3 and 4 stars. It def
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Joy H.
If you'd like to get a feel for the personality and life of Henry James without struggling (g), try this book.

Colm Toibin, author of _The Master_, imitates Henry James' style as he tells this fictionalized biography of part of Henry James' life.

I found it thrilling to feel so close to Henry James who has always seemed so distant as a writer. It was interesting to learn, as I read Henry's inner thoughts, that he suffered from self-doubt . He was human after all.

It was also interesting to read how
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Margaret
This book belongs to that genre of literary novels which create an imagined life (based heavily on research) for an historical character, in this case, the great novelist, Henry James. (Because there are other James family members appearing throughout, in person and in recollection, I refer to Henry James as Henry rather than as the customary James.)
Although the eleven chapters focus on the events taking place during specified months, beginning with January 1894 and ending with October 1899, the
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Paul
Thoughtful and well considered novel about a short period in the life of Henry James the novelist. It is set in the late 1890s when James lived in Rye and is entirely told from the point of view of James and is placed in his interior life. James is not an author I have read; apart from The Turn of the Screw, but that didn't present any problems in reading and appreciating the book. The basic knowledge I had about his life and family was enough.
This novel moves slowly and is very descriptive,but
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David Carr
This has been the perfect book for me, never once a disappointment over my slow months of reading it, and I am so grateful. My gratitude is enhanced by its unpredictability: Henry James has never become very readable for me, as I tried to do when I was very young. Now I see that I had been misled by a teacher who had too small a concept of the age and patience reading James requires. So I had led myself to open The Ambassadors, never quite figuring out a word of it, thinking at times it had been ...more
C.
Sep 24, 2008 C. rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Suzy, and anyone and everyone
Recommended to C. by: 1001
Margaret Drabble, Tracy Chevalier, Sarah Dunnant et al., please take note: this is good historical fiction.

Although it was unclear to me at first the extent to which Colm Tóibín's beautiful book The Master is historical fiction and to what extent it is biography. Whatever it is, I absolutely adore it.

I don't know much about Henry James (in fact, I'm somewhat ashamed to say I've never read any of his books - I'll get to it eventually I promise), but from reading some reviews, I get the impression
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Avital
The Master tells about Henry James from the inside out and back. The insight into the author's psych is mesmerizing and daring. He also gives a picture of those times' society, with the rich who offered their palaces, parties and company to artists all over Europe, and the artists who stayed as guests for months.
Henry James has enjoyed this kind of hospitality but he has also treasured his solitude.
It's hinted more than once and in various ways that he was homosexual, but either he was a-sexed
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Jeff
Mar 29, 2008 Jeff rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: revisionist historians
Recommended to Jeff by: andrea lynch
it's been a couple weeks since i finished _the master_, so i approach this review with both the benefit of critical distance and the burden of a poor memory for detail.

ostensibly a fictional account of the life and inner mental workings of henry james, _the master_ ironically succeeds in painting nuanced portraits of james's cohorts while treating james himself as little more than a caricature-montage of social withdrawal, repressed homosexuality and inadvertant emotional carelessness.

While one
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Joseph Longo
I loved this book by the wonderful Irish writer Colm Toibin. His prose is a pleasure to read and bask in.

This novel, a fictionalized life of 19th Century writer Henry James - his "Portrait of a Lady" is one of my favorite novels - is moving and detailed. Toibin's Henry James is a lonely, sexually repressed man who seemed to have an attraction to both men and women. His great and most intimate friend was a woman, and her suicide in Venice strongly disturbed him. Throughout the novel, however, Ja
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Ron Charles
In "The Art of Fiction," Henry James advises the beginning novelist, "Try to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost!" Unfortunately, much of James's insight is now lost on us. He grows more revered and unread with each passing decade. Shifting tastes, including a century of sensory overload, have rendered his social and emotional precision almost invisible. Students still struggle through his ghost story, "Turn of the Screw," but he's otherwise drifted off high school reading lists. When f ...more
Julie
A good one. Very nice. I'd recommend this book to people like my former roommate, who read the first page of "Wings of the Dove" and then threw it across the room while saying, "WTF is this shit?" That is to say, this is book for people to read who can't stand Henry James' style: the long sentences, etc. I am a James fan but I definitely concur that you totes have to be in the mood and that it's definitely a matter of taste. So yeah, I liked this book and looked forward to reading it. At times I ...more
Julie
The Master is the fictionalized biography of author Henry James. James was born of a wealthy Boston family, but lived much of his life in Europe. Throughout this book, James struggles in his relationships with both family and friends. He never completely loses his aloof standoffish behavior as well as the book hints of a struggle accepting or exploring his sexuality.

I have to say that I really struggled with this book. As I read over other people's reviews and I kept thinking - Is that the same
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Suzy
Oct 01, 2008 Suzy rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Suzy by: Cathy
Having just finished this today, I'm left slightly bewildered. There's no question that this is a piece of historical fiction which does proud to the genre, and I entered its world expecting to be dazzled. But it soon became clear that the author has no intention of dazzling anyone(perhaps this would fall under 'humbug'?).

There is a certain delicacy to the tone that blunts the keenest of humiliations and fervid of passions. Perhaps Toibin has taken us too deep into his subject, where every line
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Anastasia
Se siete fan di Henry James, allora amerete alla follia questo libro e avrete l'impulso irresistibile di mandare una lettere di ringraziamento, se non d'amore, a Colm Toìbin (nome fascinosamente originale!). Se, come me, Henry James se si è insinuato nelle vostre menti solo tramite commenti altrui, raccomandazioni e sentito dire, allora la faccenda si fa meno scontata.
Posso dire cos'è stato per me The Master.

Sicuramente insolito rispetto alle solite biografie romanzate, ad un livello diverso, fo
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Jen
The Master by Colm T��ib��n


The Master is a fictionalized biography of Henry James. T��ib��n captures the essence of James as being a man who is the constant observer of human emotion and behavior and never the participant. It is subtle, beautifully written, and a slow-moving tale. The book follows five years of James��� life beginning shortly after the failure of his play, Guy Domville, through his self-imposed exile in Europe.

I enjoyed this book immensely and yet I have a hard time explaining
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TheGirlBytheSeaofCortez
This was a reread for me, and I'm so glad I did take time out to reread.

I've been a longtime fan of Henry James and I've read almost everything he ever published. Not quite everything, but almost. My favorites are The Golden Bowl, the novella, The Turn of the Screw, and the exquisite Portrait of a Lady. Henry James is the only man, other than Jose Saramago, who can grab my attention at the beginning of a sentence and hold it until he concludes that very same sentence several pages later.

Talented
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Tony
Toibin, Colm. THE MASTER. (2004). ****.
Winner of the L.A. Times Book Award, and short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, the author treats us to an examination of the life of Henry James from 1895-1899. Granted, I’m not a huge fan of James – especially the novels of his later period – but Mr Toibin manages to snare the reader, mostly focusing on James’s interaction with his friends. The novel starts out with the abysmal failure of James’s play, “Guy Domville.” At the end of the play, James was t
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Chick_Flick
I found "The Master" utterly boring to read. I'd only picked it up because it was on one of the "1001 books you must read before you die" lists. Perhaps I should have read a summary of the book before reading it. As a reader who has not read any of Henry James's books, I can't say that Colm Toibin made me anymore the curiouser. Of course, I do think it was a technically well written book -- however there was so little suspense there or anything to keep the reader, who has no interest in Henry Ja ...more
Wolfgang
"It would spoil my post-mortem expression which I have been practising for years." This is what James's sister says some time before her death, which he eventually attends: "He stayed by her body, knowing that lying peacefully in death was what she had craved to do. She looked beautiful and noble, and he believed, after all his earlier doubts, that if she could see herself as her body awaited cremation, she would feel a grim delight at what she had become." And on and on the book is filled with ...more
Jan
Jan 10, 2010 Jan rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: lovers of literature, American History
Colm Toibin's portrait of literary Master Henry James is certainly gorgeous; gorgeous are the quality of its prose and the windows that the author is glad to open into the life of America's nineteenth century elite, scarred by the Civil War, but also proud in its cultural nascence.

Emotional and psychological complexity are the least we could expect from such a portrait of the Master, so let us start with this pride, written in various ways across the James family, as much the subject of the book
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Seán
One way to think of this is as Henry James biographical fan fiction done by number one fan/genius gay Irish novelist, because it really feels like a James novel, just less wordy and minus extraneous plot points. There is the presentment of a rich internal voice mediated by a highly mannered exterior life, epitomized by polite verbal exchanges that seem to a Mr. Tom Postmodern as so subtle that meaning is almost, but obviously not quite, elided.

However, and here's the genius, while initially the
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Fabian
What a year I've had! Perhaps 20 books of the 80 or so have been phenomenal (thanks 1001 Books to Read Before You Die List... seriously, the majority of these are at least above average, some of them are true essentials that you MUST absolutely experience). In that vein, "The Master" reign supreme.

Novels about novel-writing are a hit because they embody the "perfect package": it's drama about drama, prose about prose, what the un-fictitious writer had to do to get his fiction out there... even
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Maria
If you read this solely as historical fiction and are a fan of H James, prepare to happily wallow in a beautifully written, well-balanced novel. A supremely satisfactory experience.
Philipp
My favorite of Toibin's books thus far. Great view into the mind and life of Henry James as well as being stylistically brilliant.
Lavinia
There is proof that each book has its own time. I started The Master a few years back and gave it up soon after because of it being so slow paced. But there was nothing I needed lately than a slow paced book (with some interruptions for the latest Downton Abbey season). I'm still under the spell of Tóibín's prose, thinking it might take a while till I'll find something to equal it. Bring on the Nobel, please!

Oh, and I wonder how come this was translated in Romanian and Brooklyn wasn't (since it
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Alice
"The Master" by Colm Tóibín is written with brilliant sensitivity, elegant restraint, and with an understanding of the Victorian era. It is the voice of Henry James as a young man in his early twenties that is captured in every word. We understand and observe through James' introspection the struggles for intimacy, inability to connect or express love which colored his world as a young man.

One of my favorite passages takes place when young James joins friends at the seaside, is unable to get a r
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(From the authors website - http://www.colmtoibin.com/content/bio... )
"Colm Toibin was born in Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford in 1955. He studied at University College Dublin and lived in Barcelona between 1975 and 1978. Out of his experience in Barcelona be produced two books, the novel ‘The South’ (shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel Award and winner of the Irish Times/ Aer Lingus First Fiction
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“For the first time in years, he felt the deep sadness of exile, knowing that he was alone here, an outsider, and too alert to the ironies, the niceties, the manners, and indeed, the morals to be able to participate.” 8 likes
“It is terrible to be an unprotected being.” 5 likes
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