Although the title of The Master by Colm Toibin refers to the novel's subject, Henry James, it could easily refer to Toibin himself and the way that he is apparently a master of characterization and narrative voice--at least, that's my opinion of him after reading both this and his lovely novel Brooklyn. The tone of each novel is so different that it would be easy to believe that they were written by two different authors. In Brooklyn, he draws a nuanced and intimate portrait of a young Irish girl on her own for the first time. In The Master, he focuses a similar lens on a middle aged Henry James, but uses a completely different writing style that mimics James's own style, with long sentences that slowly reveal the most minute occurrences and thoughts.
There is no strong plot line running throughout The Master. Instead, each chapter focuses on a different episode in James's life, and in particular the different, often unconventional, relationships he had with family, friends, and potential lovers. The threads that do connect each segment of the novel add up to create a picture of a self-contained, highly observant, witty, and often lonely writer. The fact that the writing style does take a similar tone as James's work does mean that the pace can feel like it's dragging a bit. Just like many of James's novels, I found The Master to be a slow start. Once I got beyond the first third, though, I was completely drawn into it. The portrait of James's life was so interesting that I'm sure it will inspire me to read more of his novels in the future, despite the fact that those are reading experiences that I sometimes regret.