Wolfgang's Reviews > The Master
by Colm Tóibín
by Colm Tóibín
Jan 17, 10
Read in May, 2007
"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 gems like this one, and that one: "She could not utter a sentence without making passionate changes to her expression, smiling and frowning, and puckering up her perfect nose. He wondered how her face had withstood so many changes in its weather. Soon, he thought, there would be a landslide, something would have to give." His brother William about his books: "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." How true! Henry James' leaden style has probably not only deterred me from reading his books, particularly his later ones. Even the Queen is impatient: Alan Bennett writes in his Uncommon Reader, "It was Henry James she was reading one teatime when she shouts out loud, 'Oh, do get on.'" Then what a nice surprise Tóibín's weightless novel is, undoing the frustration of trying to read James' novels and tales and failing.
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