#261 The Master

Before I start, I thought I’d share this with you – when I was reading through my posts from 2015 (looking for Christmas present recommendations) I tallied up how many books I’d liked and how many I hadn’t from the 38 I’d read since March. I counted 7 (18%) that I’d really enjoyed, 20 (53%) I’d liked, 5 (13%) I was indifferent too (wouldn’t recommend but didn’t hate) and 6 (16%) that I really didn’t like. I suppose on the whole it’s good that I enjoyed 71% of all the books I read during this time – but it doesn’t bode well for the potential 16/29% of rubbish books that I’ll have to deal with in the next year if these proportions stay the same !

With that less than pleasant thought in mind I’ll move on to my first book of 2016 – a book which I’ve renewed so many times that each time I had to renew it again I found myself hoping that I wouldn’t be able to because someone had reserved it – to delay my having to read it. In all honestly I could have squeezed it into 2015 and made the numbers up to 39 total and 6 indifferent but I couldn’t bring myself to after a run of really good reads. I haven’t read anything by Colm Toibin before – I actually spotted The Heather Blazing a while ago but couldn’t get it because I already had too many books on loan but I remembered the name and picked this one up a couple of months ago (I’ve also just learnt he wrote the book Brooklyn on which the recent film is based – a film I really wanted to see – not that I’ll let him having written the book put me off – I think). Needless to say the blurb didn’t exactly strike me as thrilling which is why I’ve been putting it off for so long – The Master follows the American author Henry James – who I’ve found pretty hit and miss so far (I’ve read 3/6 of his books on the list and another one that I had to study at university and found him one of the least thrilling authors on the syllabus). Despite having studied him I haven’t looked into his biography before (probably because I was so disenchanted with him and didn’t bother to include him in any essays), and except for thinking that he was like a less engaging Edith Wharton – given the similar subject matters in the books of theirs that I’d read (high society, dilemma about who to marry, society politics… – not that I’m saying these are boring but the way that he writes about them is a bit soulless) – I hadn’t really given much more thought to him. So reading the Master allowed me to do that (which is not necessarily a something I’d ever wanted to do).

The novel opens on an older James living in London, in the build up to his play Guy Donville; in the milieu of the Oscar Wilde vs Queensberry trial (Wilde’s own extremely successful plays are juxtaposed with the failure of James’). There is an equal parallel drawn between Wilde’s and James’ (heavily implied) homosexuality, with the latter withdrawing from the public eye as the former is dragged through the gutter. The reclusive James remains on the peripherals of fashionable society (by choice), first in Ireland then in Rome and Venice, observing and writing and thinking. It would be unfair to say I didn’t enjoy any of this book – it took about 80 or so pages to pick up but even then it wasn’t great throughout (pretty similar to a Henry James book actually). There were some parts when I was interested to see what would happen next but they didn’t last very long – this would fall into the “indifferent” category for next year’s rating.

It may be a while until I finish another book – I’ve (bravely/stupidly) got Charles Dickens’ Bleak House to start next – after Oliver Twist was so good I’m taking a 700-odd page leap of faith which I’m sure I’ll regret as I’m having to lug it up and down the country commuting, but we’ll see !


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