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The Master (novel)
The Master is a novel by Irish writer Colm Tóibín. It is his fifth novel and it was shortlisted for the 2004 Booker Prize and received the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the Stonewall Book Award, the Lambda Literary Award, the Los Angeles Times Novel of the Year Award and, in France, Le prix du meilleur livre étranger in 2005.
The Master depicts the American-born writer Henry James in the final years of the 19th century. The eleven chapters of the novel are labelled from January 1895 to October 1899 and follow the writer from his failure in the London theatre, with the play Guy Domville, to his seclusion in the town of Rye, East Sussex, where in the following years he rapidly produced several masterpieces.
The novel starts with a portrait of Henry as a public figure who feels humiliated in an unexpected way, not just in the public side of his writing career but also in a more personal way, in which all the precautions he had taken to carry on with his life as he wished it to be, come to a crisis. Henry resolves to reduce his public life by buying a house in Rye and there he nurses his loneliness and is haunted by all the consequences his need to maintain a protected space in which to live and write has generated all through his life. He's in his fifties and he's very much aware of how he had to refuse the company of his ill sister, whom he adored, at some point, how he chose to stay away from his country and his family, how he felt to turn cold with a writer friend he had been very close to previously and becomes a bachelor with an unresolved sexuality, certainly close to homosexuality, living in a house with servants in the South of England and a daily visit of the stenographer to whom he dictates. The portrait of Henry, a man appalled by the Oscar Wilde case while repressing his self and his sexuality, shows a complex and ambiguous man. He copes with life by exerting control over how much he'd reveal, even to himself, and choosing to be a writer in order to achieve precisely that.
American writer John Updike described the book in The New Yorker (2004-06-28): “Tóibín's subject is the inward James, the master of literary creation and a vast hushed arena of dreams and memories and hoarded observations”. Daniel Mendelsohn in the New York Review of Books also praised the book, referring to it as; "unquestionably the work of a first-rate novelist – one who has for the past decade been writing excellent novels about people cut off from their feelings or families or both."
Awards and nominations
The Master was shortlisted for the 2004 Booker Prize. It received the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2006, the Lambda Literary Award, the Stonewall Book Award, Los Angeles Times Novel of the Year award and, in France, Le prix du Meilleur livre étranger (Best foreign book prize) in 2005.