I had a feeling that after reading Philip Roth’s ‘The Plot Against America’ I would be disappointed by any book that followed it, no matter how much it was praised and loved. Such is the case when I read Toibin’s ‘The Master’.
‘The Master’ (as that is what he’s called among literary circles) chronicles the life of Henry James. The novels begins with his theatrical failure ‘Guy Domville and ends with James’ older brother William visiting him. In between we get a lot of flashbacks of James’ life and what influenced his writing, his releationships with his cousin Minnie, novelist friend Constance Fenimore Woolson and sculptor Henrik Andersen (as rumours go that James was a closet homosexual). We also get snapshots of his childhood relations with his brothers and sister ( I would also say this is the highlight of the book . As well we get glimpses of the present and James is plotting out ‘The Turn of the Screw’
The way Toibin merges past with present is nothing short of exquisite. Both entwine each other so delicately that the reader doesn’t even notice that there is a flashback until a bographical detail crops up and after rearching on James I found out that the majority of the episodes in the book did actually happen so it’s a historically correct novel.
However I admit I fond the prose dry and, at times stilted so I did lose patience with some passages, it moves at a dreary pace and sometimes the extra details can be tiresome. Again this could be because I expected this piece of faction to be similar to the Roth book that I read so maybe my expectations were too high. Plus there have been way too many ‘ historical novels’ in the list and I am wanting something a bit more contemporary now (in fact the next novel is set in the second World War so I’m wondering how i’ll react to it)