#CBR9 Review #45

The Master by Colm Tóibín

During my dissertation writing phase of life (THANK GOODNESS IT’S OVER), my second reader recommended The Master, since I had written a chapter on Henry James and his take on the novel of manners, which was then adapted by Jeffery Eugenides in The Marriage Plot and Alan Hollinghurst in The Line of Beauty. Emmalita graciously gifted me this book for the CBR book exchange a few years back, and now I’ve finally read it! It’s a really enjoyable, interesting, and well-written book.

Henry James is in middle age and trying to understand his new place in the world. He’s written several successful novels, yes, but he doesn’t always understand who he is or where he fits in the world. The Master is an examination of a seemingly placid outer life and a rich inner life worked with insight, anxiety, and wonder. James is a confirmed bachelor, and his biographers have questioned or hinted at his sexuality, but this novel hypothesizes that Henry may have fallen in love with a man or two before. It’s nothing overt or explicit, but rather in a series of simple gestures and exchanges.

I recommend this novel most for fans of Henry James or author-historical fiction. If you found yourself snoring through Portrait of a Lady, I don’t see a big divergence from the original James to this one. I’m not saying that as a negative, but it is if you’re not a fan! (I mean, we all know that’s my jam, so I was delighted by the whole damn thing). Also, if you’ve never read Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady is super elegant, though The Turn of the Screw is a creepy slow burn. Or, if you want something a little shorter, try Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence.


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