Sunday, February 18, 2007

#10 - The Master

Finally, after weeks of reading, I have finished The Master. The Irish entry in my Around the World in 52 Books challenge, Colm Tóibín's majestic and utterly compelling novel reads more like a series of interlinked short stories that follow the life of writer Henry James through the latter part of his life. Told in a strikingly engaging yet cold third person, the narrative, as 1001 Books states, is episodic. The fictionalized biography, like Mothers and Sons, highlights Tóibín's unparalleled storytelling ability.

I savoured this book like sipping fine wine, reading it in small parts rather than gulping it down like a pint at the pub. I got a little further each night, slowly working my way backwards and forwards through James's life, having never read a single one of his novels (successfully avoiding them both through my undergraduate and graduate degrees), I can still feel like I know his style, form and function simply because Tóibín is so adept at working his way into the head of a writer.

An exercise that satisfies both my own curiosity about the writer (having always been more interested in the lives of the great writers than their work itself), and leads me to an even greater understanding of the scope and structure of James's work, The Master truly deserved its 2006 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. This book made me long for a provincial life, to buy a small piece of property in France somewhere, made me long for a time when one "moved" in intellectual circles, and spent days in conversation. Of course, I would have to be a member of the terrible upper class, and all of the other less appealing things about the fantasy, including marrying for money and the like, but hell, let me wallow in a Merchant-Ivory fantasy for a moment. Like someone always says, you never imagine your ancestors to be of the lower classes, the same goes for my imagination...

Annywaaay. Spending so much time with one book means I'm well behind in my reading for this month, but it's been a bit hectic too, finishing one job, finding another, finishing off my next Classic Starts with what's beginning to feel like never ending edits, and watching way too much television (damn you Jack!), there never seems to be enough time in the day.

So, to sum up, while aspects of the novel were certainly heartbreaking, the book on the whole wasn't. But that doesn't necessarily mean I wouldn't highly recommend it to anyone who might care to listen to be ramble on about the genius that is Colm Tóibín.

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