Monday, October 24, 2005

'The Master' by Colm Toibin

The Master fictionalizes the life of writer Henry James. It captures the loneliness of an artist who on the one hand, wrote deeply human stories, yet searched for an exquisite intimacy all his life. It brings out in vivid literary detail the pangs of creative inspiration and the desperate hunger for solitude. The most moving passages in the book belong to Toibin's description of Henry's clearing out of his novelist friend Constance Fenimore Woolson’s items after her death by suicide. Following Henry’s chain of thoughts, one infers that Constance had expected a romance from him, whose prospects he had declined. A heavy sadness lingers in these pages as he sorts out her items and consigns her memories to their appropriate destinations, drowning her garments in one final act of farewell.

The following is a passage taken from Henry’s visit to the Protestant Cemetery in Rome with sculptor Henrik Anderson. They are standing on poet Keats’s grave.

“He was not sure if Anderson was aware of the story of Keats’s last days in the city, or even if he knew that the gravestone, which was not inscribed with the poet’s name, marked his final resting place. Henry felt acutely the sculptor’s presence; he liked being beside him, the silence broken by birdsong, with only cats for company; and the sense of the dead, including the tragic young poet, deeply at rest, protected in warm, rich earth. And the air all around, the clear sky and the secluded spaces of the cemetery, proclaiming that with rest came the end of sorrow; and this rest seemed to him now, on a May morning in Rome, suffused with love or something close to it.”

A stunning book, The Master must be read for the long hours of suspended solitude one gets to savour as one delves into the soul of a truly remarkable man.

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