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Monday, November 9, 2015

Four For Four

At this point in my life, the highest praise I can bestow on an author is to spend any of my remaining precious reading time returning to their work. Since first being exposed to Colm Toibin five years ago via his novel "Brooklyn" - just released as a film starring Saoirse Ronan - I've returned three more times. And each time I've been knocked out.

In "The Master" (2004) Toibin delivered me into the private world of author Henry James. Although my familiarity with the novels and stories of James is not very deep, several of my Great Courses CD series cover his work in some detail. Having recently listened to a few of those I was better able to follow the references to seminal James' characters like Daisy Miller and Isabel Archer that Toibin expertly weaves into his narrative.

But even without that background, "The Master" is so rich and nuanced. "He was ready to listen, always ready to do that, but not prepared to reveal the mind at work, the imagination, or the depth of feeling." "...he also wanted to keep the past to himself, a prized and private possession." "...how memory and regret can mingle, how much sorrow can be held within, and how nothing seems to have any shape or meaning until it is well past and lost..." Toibin's books ache with longing.

This novel came most vividly alive for me in the passages where Toibin describes the friendship between James and Constance Fenimore Woolson, another esteemed and intensely interior 19th century author. "He was not allowed to pity her, nor was he allowed to know her fully, except as a set of passionate contradictions underlined by two essential truths: she was immensely clever and she was lonely." If any of you have spent time with Colm Toibin's work, I'd enjoy hearing about it. To me, he is a treasure.        

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