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The Master

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  9,101 ratings  ·  1,042 reviews
“Colm Tóibín’s beautiful, subtle illumination of Henry James’s inner life” (The New York Times) captures the loneliness and hope of a master of psychological subtlety whose forays into intimacy inevitably fail those he tried to love.

Beautiful and profoundly moving, The Master tells the story of Henry James, a man born into one of America’s first intellectual families who l
Paperback, 339 pages
Published May 3rd 2005 by Scribner (first published May 25th 2004)
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Judith Maybe you should ask people in your church. You are really barking at the wrong tree here. Maybe you should be worrying about the misogynist womanizer…moreMaybe you should ask people in your church. You are really barking at the wrong tree here. Maybe you should be worrying about the misogynist womanizer we have in the White House instead.(less)
Marianne Geither Snider The Master is in a class by itself but others I've read by Toibin are absolutely good reads! Brooklyn; Nora Webster; and The Heather Blazing.…moreThe Master is in a class by itself but others I've read by Toibin are absolutely good reads! Brooklyn; Nora Webster; and The Heather Blazing.(less)

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Oct 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
What a year I've had (2014)! 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 mustmust MUST absolutely experience). In that vein, "The Master" reigns supreme.

Novels about novel-writing are a hit because they embody the "perfect package": it's drama about drama, prose about prose, what the unfictitious writer had to do to ultimately get his
Jim Fonseca
Oct 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorite-books
The Master is the story of the key life-shaping experiences of Henry James. While we learn a lot about James' life, the book is not at all structured as a traditional biography. It begins late in James' life when he was settled in England and it has him reflect back on these experiences. In particular, three women, very close to him -- an invalid sister, a brilliant favorite cousin, and an author friend died relatively young. Another life-forming event was a summer camp experience with a large g ...more
Ahmad Sharabiani
(9 From 1001 Books) - The Master (2004), Colm Tóibín (Toibin)

The novel starts with a portrait of Henry as a public figure who feels humiliated in an unexpected way, not just in the public side of his writing career but also in a more personal way, in which all the precautions he had taken to carry on with his life as he wished it to be, come to a crisis.

Henry resolves to reduce his public life by buying a house in Rye and there he nurses his loneliness and is haunted by all the consequences his
I first read this book in 2004. I had chosen to read it because it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, not because it was about Henry James. Thirteen years on, I rarely read books in the Booker shortlist but I'm definitely interested in Henry James so it was with a certain curiosity that I picked this book out of a box I was unpacking and opened up its yellow-tinged pages.

In the years since my first reading, I'd always maintained in any discussion about Toibin's books that The Master was the
Aug 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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


Coming out of a cinema having watched a film, one often feels, for a very short moment, somewhat astray. But very quickly one’s consciousness grapples to take hold of its position and put the realm of the movie into a contained and defined locus in one’s brain—somewhere on the side, no longer projected at the very back. Only then can one resume one’s life and self, and start chatting to friends about what did they think of the film.

With this novel I have felt a similar disconcerti
Feb 25, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary-novels
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 some of his shorter stuff, 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,
Jun 01, 2019 rated it liked it
Recommended to Thomas by: Emma Flanagan
Shelves: literature
Three stars for a disappointing book. This was a gift from my Goodreads friend Emma. The book cover shows it shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, Los Angeles Times Book Prize Fiction winner and several other prizes. I tried reading 1 of Henry James' books 50 years ago and did not finish because it was boring. I realize that I am in the minority here, but I found this book to be very tedious. It was as if I was in a college literature course reading an assigned book. The book re imagines 4 and 1 ...more
Andy Marr
Oct 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
I started reading this book with next to no knowledge of Henry James' life and works. I now find myself fascinated by the man, thanks to Tòibin's incredible storytelling and beautiful prose. ...more
Mar 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Life is a mystery and (that) only sentences are beautiful (…)

The disadvantage of listening to an audiobook, however mellow and fittingly transatlantic the accent of the narrator, is that one cannot hold on to the sentences. They seem more fleeting when listened to, even when, as in this case, I went back many times to pay more attention to the beauty of a sentence, the significance of a word. And there was much I wanted to hold on to and savour in this gorgeous novel.

It is the story of Henry Ja
K.D. Absolutely
Jul 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommended to K.D. by: 501 Must Read Books, Man Booker 2004, 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006-2010)
Shelves: 501, 1001-core
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
Feb 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
“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
Dec 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Description: The Master tells the story of Henry James, a man born into one of America's first intellectual families two decades before the Civil War. In stunningly resonant prose, Tsibmn captures the loneliness and longing, the hope and despair of a man who never married, never resolved his sexual identity, and whose forays into intimacy inevitably failed him and those he tried to love.

Withdrawn from London Borough of Redbridge Libraries

Opening: January 1895. Someti
Ron Charles
Dec 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
It's pretty audacious to make Henry James the hero of your book. Tóibín starts by showing us this deeply closeted, repressed guy: this is the Henry James we know. But then: he goes deeper, writing him as not just closeted but a coward, a selfish guy, and you're like whoa, hey. And then he goes even deeper and shows the terrible damage he's inflicted on everyone around him through his cowardice and selfishness, and you realize Tóibín hasn't made James the hero of his book; he's made him the villa ...more
Apr 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Nahid Rachlin
Feb 27, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting book, capturing the disquiet and drama of a writing life
Jul 03, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2009
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
Sep 11, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: irish
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
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
Julie Christine
This novel seeks to reveal the daily life and thoughts of American writer Henry James prior to his breakthrough novels, The Wings of Doves and The Golden Bowl. It exposes the world of privilege and conceit of European literati and artists and those who seek to be on intimate terms with such talent and hopeful success. One does not need to be a fan of Henry James or to even have read his work to enjoy this portrait- the novel is beautifully rendered, intense and fascinating. But it would be diffi ...more
Jun 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I had this on my TBR list way too long! An excellent book by Colm Toibin giving a fictionalized account of Henry Jame's life. I loved the style Toibin used selecting interesting and/or significant events/people/places in James's life. ...more
David Carr
Sep 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Exceeded my expectations as I thought this would be a drier read in part. Read a few of the novels by James as part of a group read challenge a year or so ago and it was fascinating to read how the novels came into being.

This tends to go back and forth a bit in the life of James but it does give insight into the three women who had great bearing on James and the path that he later took.

Hadn't read the author before but this was interesting in the way James was presented. From the Boxall 1000 lis
Mar 02, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Nov 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
While most biographies deal with the external lives of their heroes recording the pivotal moments in their histories and their material accomplishments, The Master unwaveringly charts the inner life of Henry James - his emotional topography and vivid introspections - with stunning clarity that leaves you feeling dangerously intimate to him, as if he were your favorite sibling. The restrained prose could be compared to a deadly calm lake at night - steady without any ripples, beautiful and reflec ...more
Sep 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own-it, anglophile
I have loved all that I have read from Colm Toibin. Add another one.

I'm glad I read A Portrait of a Lady and Turn of the Screw before I read this so I had more feel for Henry James's fiction. The "master" of the title is Henry. The book spends a lot of time in Italy, most of the time in England, and a lot of flashback to America. I loved all of the settings, but my favorite was in Rye at Lamb House. I've been there! And at the time I was more into the fact that EF Benson lived there and set his
Toibin's novel is a masterpiece. I haven't read Henry James, and I probably won't. There are many readers who love his books, but I think I'd rather read about him. I am not interested in the lives of the classes of people he writes about. Nonetheless, Toibin's portrayal of an author who lived an asexual life rather than act on his attraction to the same sex is well wrought. I thoroughly enjoyed the descriptions 19th century Venice and Dublin. Writers and artists such Lady Gregory, Edith Wharton ...more
Jun 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: english
A "biography", in the form of a novel, of Henry James. Fascinating, how the emotions and worries of the main, and other, characters are described in great detail, without ever being boring, at least to me. If you liked "Nora Webster" by the same author, you'll love this one. If not, you'll hate it. ...more
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Colm Tóibín FRSL, is an Irish novelist, short story writer, essayist, playwright, journalist, critic, and poet. Tóibín is currently Irene and Sidney B. Silverman Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University in Manhattan and succeeded Martin Amis as professor of creative writing at the University of Manchester.

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