The Master by Colm Tóibín is a novel, based on the “real life” of the novelist Henry James, covering the years 1895-1899. Tóibín mostly focuses on the inner life of James, as he travels between London and Italy, but mostly as he travels in his mind (to his youth in Boston) and to his past in Italy, and as he mulls over conversations, present and past. Tóibín’s James is a listener, attentive to details and nuance, and always intrigued by possible material for novels and stories. He sees himself as a craftsman, who takes real life problems and explores them, buffing and varnishing. As I read the book the word placid kept coming to mind. James’s writing, Tóibín’s writing about James, James’ life itself… all seems very placid. The other remarkable feature of the novel and presumably of James himself, is the complete absence of any curiosity about the world. He is intensely curious about his society (of wealthy people) but the rest of the world seems not even to exist for him. Still, great reading.
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