dimanche 7 octobre 2012

The Master by Colm Toibin (2004)

Colm Toibin's 2004 novel “The Master” is a well-researched, sensitively written piece of hybrid writing, blending fact and fiction to produce a beautiful, complex read.

It is a fictionalized account of the people, places and events that shaped the life of the real novelist, playwright and essayist Henry James that will satisfy present James fans and will make new fans out of the uninitiated.

Read the first two pages - the mood, the literary style, and the problematic quest for emotional maturation (one of the central themes that will come to dominate the book) are already there: When Henry the protagonist recounts a dream where he finds himself near his beloved mother, in a half-familiar Italian square where she “beseeches” him to give her “something”, (succor? pity? consolation? a word of love?) “he cannot help her” and instead wills himself to “wake in a cold fright”, immediately looking for ways to “numb” or “distract” himself. Henry is failing – the master fails...

Henry masters the rendering of psychological states in his professional life but he cannot, dare not examine the emotional terrain that shapes his own being. People around him want Henry's friendship and love but he measures these out like J. Alfred Prufrock, in “coffee spoons”. Yes, perhaps Constance Fenimore Woolson's suicide was precipitated by Henry's emotional negligence, but what can he do, he asks himself? And when Henry himself seeks intimacy we watch, cringing, as he backs away from perfect opportunities to connect with others.

Colm Toibin ends the novel with Henry putting his relatives on a train, returning to his house alone, “moving around it relishing the silence and the emptiness” and preparing to “capture” and “hold” the world as he “observed” it in a new book. Clearly, it cannot be otherwise for Henry...

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