THE MASTER is Henry James. And Henry James is the character
that Toibin chose for this peculiar and beautiful novel.
Colm Toibin won the IMPAC award last year with his novel.
In their comments on the novel the judges said
“In The Master, Colm Tóibín captures the
exquisite anguish of a man who circulated in the
grand parlours and palazzos of Europe, who was
astonishingly alive and vibrant in his art,
and yet whose attempts at intimacy inevitably failed
him and those he tried to love. It is a powerful
account of the hazards of putting the life
of the mind before affairs of the heart".
This is especially true when the narrator describes
the suggestive attraction that seems to feel Henry
James toward Hammond, an attentive butler who makes
everything possible to please him. This eroticism is
rendered with great subtlety and the narrator manages
to express the delicacy of James gestures, as well as
his will to resist and avoid this attraction.
That's one of my favorite parts. Toibin also emphasizes
melancholic undertones that are laid bare through the
writer's life via appropriating James's insgiths when
describing his fears and desires. After the failure of
his play "Guy Domville", Toibin describes:
"Nonetheless, he remembered the shock and the
shame of the opening night of 'Guy Domville'. He told
himself that the memory would fade, and with that
admonition he tried to put all thoughts
of his failure out of his mind" (49).
Toibin also swims through James's thougths regarding
Oscar Wilde, seen as a sort of rival in London:
"Wilde had been much on Henry's mind over the previous
months. His two plays were still running at the Haymarket
and the St. James. Henry had no difficulty adding up the
money Wilde had been making" (70).
Toibin has made an exhaustive research, as is detailed in
the Acknowledgments, where he specifies:
"I have peppered the text with phrases and sentences
from the writings of Henry James and his family".
About this book, Joyce Carol Oates said in an interview:
"what I like about it is that the Henry James he is creating
is like a ghost--he doesn't say much. It's a novel that's
almost about nothing--but it's a novel that I can identify
with. I feel that the writer is like an observer at the margin".