Our Book of the Month for December is the acclaimed novel The Master by Colm Toibin, which was nominated by our contributors. It focuses on part of the life of Henry James, taking us into the mind of the writer who was revered as The Master.
The period covered is from 1895 -1899, when James was in his fifties. The novel begins with the humiliating failure of his play Guy Domville in London. This was not the end of the road for James - far from it - and it is worth bearing in mind that he still had some of his finest writing to come, with The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903) and The Golden Bowl (1904). Nevertheless it is fascinating to focus on a specific phase in the life of a great author.
Toibin skilfully blends fact and fiction. This is a method that requires careful handling, but his thorough knowledge of James' life and work, his perceptive approach to the subject matter, and his exquisite structuring of the material enable him to depict the Master convincingly.
Colm Toibin has worked as an English teacher and as a journalist, and his successes as a novelist have been impressive. His works include The Blackwater Lightship, which was a Booker contender in 1999 and has been filmed. The Master was also shortlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2004, and the New York Times hailed it as one of the top ten books of that year.