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The Master

Narrated by: Geoffrey Howard
Length: 12 hrs and 32 mins
4 out of 5 stars (318 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

In The Master, his brilliant and profoundly moving fifth novel, Colm Toibin tells the story of Henry James, a famous novelist born into one of America's intellectual first families two decades before the Civil War. James left his country to live in Paris, Rome, Venice, and London among privileged artists and writers.

In stunningly resonant prose, Toibin captures the loneliness and longing, the hope and despair of a man who never married, never resolved his sexual identity, and whose forays into intimacy inevitably failed him and those he tried to love. The emotional intensity of Toibin 's portrait of James is riveting. Time and again, James, a master of psychological subtlety in his fiction, proves blind to his own heart.

Toibin is a "great and humanizing writer" who describes complex relationships in "supple, beautifully modulated prose" (Washington Post Book World). In The Master, he has written his most ambitious novel, an extraordinarily inventive encounter with a character at the cusp of the modern age, elusive to his own friends and even family, yet astonishingly vivid and moving in these pages.

©2004 Colm Toibin (P)2004 Blackstone Audiobooks

Critic Reviews

  • Audie Award Finalist, Literary Fiction, 2005
  • IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, 2006

"Perhaps the book’s greatest achievement—one of many—is the gentle understatement it employs to connect James’ personal uncertainties at mid-career to a broader shift in the literary current at the turn of the century. … The story’s greater energy lies in the linkage that Tóibín forges among James’s emotional and physical exile, the subjects of his novels, and certain key episodes in his past." (Boston Globe)
"The subtlety and empathy with which Toibin inhabits James's psyche and captures the fleeting emotional nuances of his world are beyond praise, and even the echoes of the master's style ring true." (Publishers Weekly)
"Even the reader who knows little about Henry James or his work can enjoy this marvelously intelligent and engaging novel, which presents not on a silver platter but in tender, opened hands a beautifully nuanced psychological portrait." (Booklist)

What members say

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Kathy
  • Charlestown, MD, USA
  • 05-06-05


I'm not normally a biography reader and didn't know much about Henry James before reading this, so it's hard to say really why I ordered "The Master." But I am so glad I did.
My interest in James arose while listening to "Reading Lolita in Tehran." James was one of the authors the Iranian women studied. I thought, here I am, able to read anything I want, and I don?t know anything about this writer that these people risked arrest to read.

And, what a wonderful book. Toibin is himself "The Master," his manner and style of writing are superb. This is what people really mean when they say someone "has a way with words."
For much of his life, Henry James lived as an American expatriate in England and Italy. The life and times of those countries are as much of James's story as the man himself. Toibin sketches the locales and cultures so vividly that I could see the garden outside the window of the house in the English countryside where James finally settled.
For anyone whose only experience with James was "Portrait of a Lady" in tenth grade, you owe it to yourself to learn something about this American legend.
Narration by Geoffrey Howard is excellent, the perfect voice for this perfect story.

23 of 23 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars


A book about Henry James in sort of the style of Henry James, the same reticence and provocative hinting, the same restrained but intense examination of every word, every thought and mood. I'm a Henry James fan and thought I'd get mad at somebody who presumed to embellish and explain the life of a real person. I usually get annoyed by such hubris. But in this case I just can't. It is so so so good. And the sources of all the stories and books are stated (or implied) so satisfyingly. I adored it, and the reader was perfect for it.

16 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Anne
  • Glassboro, NJ, USA
  • 01-18-05

A Gentle Story

I couldn't get any of my friends or relatives to read this with me, and they were all wrong to avoid it--it is a sensitive and gentle rendering of certain segments of James' life, easy to follow in this recorded form, and not reminiscent of those tangled James short stories you never finished in college. Toibin keeps it believable and doesn't charge in and detail torrid love affairs (of any orientation). Unlike other novels 'from a life' this didn't make me worry whether Toibin had guessed correctly at the deepest secrets of James' personal life. It's a great portrait with a nice "nuanced" narration that suits the material very well.

30 of 32 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

A Pleasure from Start to Finish

"The Master" is one of the best novels I've ever listened to. Having read the reviews, I was hesitant to hear (rather than read) the book. It is a perfect audiobook though, with an easy pace and a talented reader. Toibin's grasp of the creative mind, of the historical era and manners, and of the insights of an expat New Englander are spot on. It's not a juicy tell-all faux-bio for fans of Kitty Kelley's style, but an empathetic imagining of "being Henry James." Reasonable speculation is made based on family acquaintances and events of the time. The language is rich yet restrained to befit the subject. Characterization is subtle, bolstered by the author's tremendous insight and sympathy. The reader feels suspended in time, taken to a place where James's painstakingly private life can be observed without intruding on decorum. Elegant and worthwhile if you love literary fiction and the life of the mind.

17 of 18 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Nadia
  • Englefield Green, N/A, United Kingdom
  • 06-05-05

Masterful psychological narrative

If you enjoy understanding the inner workings of a writer's mind, and seeing how the simple observation of people's lives can be geered to powerful literary creation, then you will really enjoy listening to this book. This is a beautifully woven narrative. Well read too.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • JC
  • 12-03-06

Moving Story

The story about Henry Janes was heart wrenching and moving and provided fascinating insights into the characters and places he wrote about.

The narrator captured the heavy mood perfectly.

My sister who reads over 50/books year recommended this as one of her favorites.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Loved it!

I loved this audio book. Loved it loved it! I can't believe it went for 12 hours. When it ended I felt like I'd lost a friend. I've never read anything of Henry James and prior to listening to this book, knew nothing much about him either. This book has brought him to my attention. A real achievement from Colm Toibin and narrated perfectly by Geoffrey Howard, I felt I was traveling around on Jame's shoulder.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars


I was eager to read The Master after the New York Times listed it as one of the year's ten best books. After persevering for nearly two-thirds of the book, however, I was unable to endure any more. I found the story tedious, and the style pretentious. As a fan of slow-moving, thoughtfully-written, detail-laden prose, I was reluctant to "give up", but I truly feel this book is over-rated.

20 of 25 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

A lovely understated novel

Geoffrey Howard gives a pitch perfect performance to this understated and intelligently written novel about Henry James. Colm Toibin presents characters with careful distinctions. The writing is understated, poised, well mannered.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

Preferring Toibin to James...

I selected this book because I thought it might psych me up for reading more Henry James, an author I've never had a keen affinity for, and I do hold Colm Toibin in high regard. Although I am not now inspired to hit the Henry James library, the book was, as I expected it to be, well-written; a novel whose tone of regret and unfulfilled promise is an interesting counter to the impression I had of a writer both prolific and honored in his life.

The narration was *too* evenly paced, although a life-of-the-mind character study of this particular author in his middle-age no less is bound to be less than bouncily exciting, the book is long enough that at times the narration becomes too mundane and plodding. And I do blame this on the narration rather than the text itself.

Colm Toibin's actualization of Henry James reads as utterly authentic, to his credit I absolutely believe that he has rendered James' innermost self on the page (and in my ear). Yet after so rendering James' life, I confess that I am even more reluctant to read further into James' actual works -- I fear they will, as James himself appears to be in Toibin's novel, intricately realized yet (alas!) intrinsically boring.

4 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Kakabeak
  • 02-04-06

Elegant prose: beatifully read

Shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2004, this book has been deservedly highly acclaimed. The author delicately explores the life of author Henry James, and probes with great subtlety the essentially fragile relationships he formed over the course of his life with both men and women. But what makes this audiobook completely outstanding is its telling. The book's elegantly structured English is rendered with poignant sensitivity by narrator Geoffrey Howard. I will be on the lookout for his readings of other books of merit.