Toibin delves into the layers of the great German novelist’s unconscious, inviting us to understand his fraught, monumental, complicated and productive life. It’s a work of huge imaginative sympathy ... Toibin gives full rein to this sweeping story ... On the surface, this is the melancholy story of a sensitive but repressed man who can’t quite connect to his own impulses or supply the emotional needs of his wife and children. But Toibin excavates deeply, sifting through incidents in his life, turfing up incitements to his major fictions ... It takes a writer of Toibin’s caliber to understand how the seemingly inconsequential details of life can be transmogrified, turned into art ... overall, a satisfying and elegantly written novel. Its expansive and subtle rhythms carry the reader forward and backward in time, tracing an epic story of exile and literary grandeur, unpacking a major author’s psyche in such a way that the life of the imagination becomes, finally, the real and only tale worth telling.
Tóibín uses a novelist’s tools to present a picture of Mann as a full human figure with darkness and depth ... Tóibín sharpens his picture of Mann by placing him in relation to other major thinkers and artists ... Because Tóibín wants to address readers unfamiliar with Mann, he does not present long reflections on Mann’s novels. Instead, he highlights the events, ideas, and relationships Mann would draw into and transform through his work ... A highlight of the book is Tóibín’s depiction of Mann’s wife, Katia. The daughter of a highly-cultured secular Jewish family, Katia was instrumental in the development of Mann’s art. Furthermore, as Tóibín shows, Katia’s sexuality did not fit neatly into the categories of her time and she supported her husband and children in their diverse sexualities. Writing about Katia, Tóibín puts aside tropes of the poor wife oblivious to her husband’s homoerotic desires ... Part of the pleasure of reading The Magician is seeing how one great writer, Colm Tóibín, imagines the life and work of another great writer, Thomas Mann, in prose as beautiful and vibrant as the older writer deserves ... In The Magician, Colm Tóibín presents a rare view into the making of serious art and, in the process, shows he is a powerful magician himself.
... subtle and substantial ... Toibin’s symphonic and moving novel humanizes [Thomas] further ... Toibin seeks to grasp the entirety of Mann’s life and times, the way a biographer might, and he does so quite neatly. Maximalist in scope but intimate in feeling, The Magician never feels dutiful. Like its subject, it’s somber, yet it’s also prickly and strange, sometimes all at once ... Toibin is a writer of pinging dialogue, a novelistic Tom Stoppard, and he gives Katia many of the best lines ... Toibin’s fiction is animated by the ever-alert attention he pays to sexual subcurrents ... a big novel that waxes and wanes.
... powerful ... masterfully weaves together Tóibín’s take on Mann’s personal and interior life with the creation of his major works ... The result is a remarkable dual portrait of Germany’s history in the 20th century and of a great, internationally famous writer who was thrust into a public role with which he was not entirely comfortable ... an be enjoyed even by readers unfamiliar with Mann’s novels, and should appeal not just to fans of Tóibín’s work but to history buffs who are interested in the buildup to World War II and its aftermath ... Among other things, Tóibín’s novel is a stirring paean to literature and music, which his introspective protagonist compares in several of the book’s most soaring passages ... Tóibín imagines far more than the buttons on a coat, taking us deeper into his character’s psyche than a nonfiction biography would allow ... Tóibín does a particularly sensitive job depicting the Manns’ long, successful marriage ... Tóibín, who has joked that he hopes never again to write about a family with six children, does yeoman’s work bringing Mann’s extensive, fractious clan to life and keeping track of them as they move around the world during the war like pins on a map. As a family saga, The Magician encompasses numerous upheavals, including multiple suicides ... This sobering, cautionary reminder about what happens when bad people gain popular support is a magnificent achievement.
... shivers of movement...become convulsions ... What Mr. Tóibín’s exquisitely sensitive novel gets right, in a way that biography rarely does, is its acknowledgment of unknowability ... it is this private self, along with the equally inscrutable personalities that made up his household and his circle, that shivers with movement in Mr. Tóibín’s flight of fancy, which has one of the most sublime endings I’ve come across in a novel in a long time. Is The Magician Thomas Mann? No. But it’s perfectly successful in showing that, most of the time, neither was the man himself.
Tóibín makes a wonderful novel ...There is almost no invention that I could spot and yet it reads as a novel, not history or journalism. I have always respected Mann. Tóibín makes me feel affection for him as well as admiration. The relationships with the remarkably talented, often difficult, brood of children, with his wife Katia and his brother Heinrich, also a fine novelist and a man of the Left, are intelligently and sympathetically treated. Tóibín has done something very difficult, harnessing the public and private lives of his characters. Anthony Powell thought there were few more difficult things for a novelist than portraying the course of a marriage. Tóibín does this splendidly; here the novelist brings to vivid and immediately dramatic life what in a biography might only be reported or analysed. Moreover by treating all relationships in this manner, Tóibín offers what is very rare in biographies—that is, humour. We are never allowed to forget the horrors of Nazi Germany, but the novel by its comprehensive nature also admits comedy. Mann himself always put irony at the centre of his fiction. This is a very accomplished and enjoyable novel. It reads easily, more easily indeed than Mann’s own novels. But it is so interesting and understanding that many who read it are likely to be encouraged to return to Mann’s own works or tackle them for the first time.
The novel at first seems curiously flat, biographical reportage with dialogue often sounding like stiff translations from the German; but little by little the inexorably accumulating details make Tóibín's Mann more interesting than the mere facts of his admittedly larger-than-life story ... events conspire to invest this life with much of the drama of the 20th century's most pressing social, cultural and political questions. While much of The Magician is taken up with the doings (and undoing) of Mann's remarkable family...the book gets its momentum and heft from the way these experiences intersect with the larger world, in particular, the way Tóibín has Mann making sense of them, in his life and in his art ... a deep and nuanced vision of Germany moving via culture and corruption from old world to new, with Thomas Mann as both its observer and its embodiment.
... an incisive and witty novel that shows what good company the Nobelist and his family might have been ... it canters along not only on the strength of Tóibín’s graceful prose, but also because the reader can hardly wait for the next bon mot from a family member or guest. Christopher Isherwood, Albert Einstein, Bertolt Brecht and other luminaires have cameos, and in their absence one or another Mann is sure to pick up the slack.
One of the pleasures of reading this book is watching it push against the expectations of the war story. Most World War II narratives are highly colored, billboard-loud affairs ... This novel echoes the quiet mourning that wells up in Schubert and the spare lyricism of 12-tone composer Arnold Schoenberg ... Sweeping but subtle ... Tóibín is at his best in The Magician when evoking feelings so composite that they recall the wake left by haunting musical phrases. The Magician does not shy away from open conflict, but its savagery unfolds at the dinner table rather than the front ... At its heart, this book is a luminous tribute to another’s faith in language—that stay against personal tragedy and political disaster. Tóibín’s own art of loss creates inflections as lasting.
... marvelously executed and absorbing ... In his novel about Mann’s life, Toíbín deftly omits descriptions of the great works, he brings us right up to the about-to-open door. The Magician is the story of everything that went on around that door. The effect only emphasizes the mystery of artistic transmutation ... There is so much to admire and enjoy in The Magician, not least of which is the mastery and wit of the telling ... Toíbín’s intelligence is great as his knowledge of literature and his empathetic imagination. He’s a magician too, a conjuror, but he reconstructs ghosts rather than banishes them. And it’s become clear that in his estimable body of work he’ll take on the cloaked lives of anyone.
Mixing domestic dramas with global convulsions, the novel creates a profound sense of instability that would likely dismantle even the most stolid character ... Tóibín...is at home in Mann’s contradictions, capturing the entire Mann family’s odd humors, conflicts and ordeals. While his timeline is straightforward as he moves from Mann’s childhood to his final illness, the way the ground keeps shifting beneath his characters’ feet is not ... Several chapters in The Magician have a thrillerlike intensity. There’s wry humor, too ... But his biggest triumph is in getting to the heart of Mann’s dilemma ... Those words hit home in our own era when democracy seems so much under threat.
... compellilng ... Tóibín’s cast is large, and there are glittering vignettes ... There is a memorably spiky account of Alma Mahler’s performance as grande dame in exile. But always behind the parade of characters lours the dark background of Germany’s decline and fall and subsequent division. Tóibín expertly balances the private and public, and he follows Mann’s trajectory from patriotism to disillusion with non-judgmental finesse ... Tóibín’s chilling account of his conversation with the financier and newspaper proprietor Eugene Meyer is masterly ... This is an enormously ambitious book, one in which the intimate and the momentous are exquisitely balanced. It is the story of a man who spent almost all of his adult life behind a desk or going for sedate little post-prandial walks with his wife. From this sedentary existence Tóibín has fashioned an epic.
The Magician is pell-mell narration, recitative, Nacherzählung ... Tóibín has a dozen, or even a score, of people to push through sixty years...and he can’t afford to stop too many times. And so the poor words come out for them to speak. Like little soundbites, little what-might-have-been-said-by-you-or-me-in-similar-circumstances samples. Scenelets. Description intolerably bland ... In all this soap opera, tedious and poorly told and lacking insight and accuracy to them...breathless and arbitrary and inconsequential to others, it is hard even to see 'Thomas', harder still to guess what he might represent to Tóibín ... The Magician isn’t just a bad book, or a misconceived book, or a book that should never have been written: it is in some sense a book that doesn’t exist. Crap hat, no rabbit.
Such moments are a sign of how subtly Tóibín develops his central theme of what can escape the eye of seclusion-seeking writers lauded for their observational gifts. Overall, though, the impression left by his somewhat confounding enterprise is rather more blunt...Despite the unpromising start, the ensuing scene is well done, rich in longing and awkward jeopardy. But as the novel proceeds, and Mann becomes a celebrity among other writers and artists (not least his own children), you sense its panorama unfolding with increasing strain ... Tóibín’s deceptively plain close-third narration in Brooklyn and Nora Webster allowed those novels to speak through his characters as well as over them, a technique that generated much pathos. Here, it tends to get in the way of the insight a non-fictional register might afford, while at the same time shutting down the possibility that the reader’s imagination might fill in a blank or two ... While it obviously makes sense to show Mann against a backdrop of worldwide upheaval, The Magician’s wider angled approach doesn’t match the intimacy Tóibín generated in The Master ... a reading experience that feels uncomfortably, even pointlessly, stranded in a stylistic no man’s land between biography and fiction.
... resists the shallow gestures of Hollywood biopics, reaching for something mainstream film couldn’t get at, or wouldn’t bother with. How does an artist create, and can a true artist live as the rest of us do? ... Tóibín, the author of nine previous novels himself knows he can’t say anything definitive about James or Mann. He mostly seems to be saying thank you to his heroes. It’s hard to imagine a reader for these novels who didn’t share the author’s affection for their protagonists ... has an often maddening pace, the book speeding through the decades...There were moments I wish he’d lingered in ... Tóibín writes about Mann, but when he takes his time, he also writes like Mann — braiding together the intimate stuff of family and the life of the nation — a tidy trick ... The novel is frank about Mann’s desires, and renders them with thoughtful complexity ... There’s no condemnation in The Magician, nor is there pity. Instead there’s the understanding that a great artist might be, after all, only a human.
In some ways it feels like reading a 19th-century novel, though the focus on Mann’s middle years keeps us away from the Bildungsroman. Each house is lovingly constructed, each garden vivid and even minor characters’ lives brightly woven so that the possibility of confusion never occurs. Tóibín doesn’t write like Mantel but he shares her capacity for writing on a scale that is simultaneously intimate and transnational ... There are moments in the middle of this novel, in the long uncertain years when Hitler was rising and bourgeois liberals were beginning to wonder whether to take notice, that feel a little too enslaved by events; most sweeping political change begins incrementally, but incremental political change is not thrilling in fiction, especially when much of the drama is reported by minor characters. But for the great majority of its long sweep, this is deeply engaging, serious and beautiful writing that carries its echoing questions with grace.
... this deeply researched, highly accomplished fictional narrative...makes for compelling reading. While The Master focused on just five years in James’ life, The Magician covers some 60 years in Mann’s, lending it a more sweeping trajectory ... Tóibín has assuredly drawn heavily on Mann’s diaries ... The pages of Tóibín’s novel dealing with the war years crackle and soar above the rest.
With remarkable sensitivity and empathy, Colm Tóibín fictionalises the rise and extraordinary life of the German writer Thomas Mann ... Mann’s unfulfilled sexual desires also lend the narrative a longing undertone and feeling of being unmoored, despite Mann’s loving marriage to Katia Pringsheim. Most notably, some of the finest writing in the novel finds Tóibín bringing to life Mann’s profound questions about the role of the German artist as a public figure as Hitler ascended to power. Another feat of this towering work is that the hallmarks of Tóibín’s diaphanous prose—stillness, precision, intimacy—remain intact despite the wide-ranging, voluminous material of Mann’s biography. Tóibín deftly moves the reader between different facets of Mann’s persona while also allowing space for the novel to read as a finely observed and wholly absorbing family saga ... in a quietly epic tale, Tóibín expertly captures the layers of a richly multiple self and surely reasserts his own status as one of our greatest living novelists.
The Magician restores or completes our understanding of a great gay writer who could speak about his sexuality only indirectly: as symbol, as coded theme ... Line by line, Tóibín’s prose is simple. He is interested in creating, by the remorselessly patient accumulation of small actions, a fully rounded portrait ... Tóibín moves swiftly. Where Mann was essayistic, Tóibín prefers action—and in his novels, thinking, too, always feels like action ... The Magician stands as one of the richest and most perceptive novels ever written about the inner life of an artist. Colm Tóibín has already written several truly extraordinary novels. The Magician may be the very best of them.
The way Tóibín represents [Mann's] struggling restraint is to keep his own style unruffled, his quiet sentences stacking up to create an accumulation of feeling. Dialogue is limited to what needs to be heard, and big events—marriage, war, death—happen off the page; this is apt for a man who spent his life in the not very picturesque act of sitting at a desk. This approach has a number of effects. First, it makes The Magician an active reading experience, the reader bringing their own insight to plug the gaps. Second, it means that when emotions do boil over onto the page, even the subtlest representation feels dramatic ... Tóibín’s technique of combining scale with detail gives the book the feel of an epic without the length; it’s a novel you can’t and wouldn’t want to rush through ... not a biography but a work of art, an emotional reckoning with a century of change, centred on a man who tried to stand upright but was swayed by the winds of that change.
With material as rich as this it is no surprise that Tóibín sticks scrupulously to the documented accounts of Mann’s life, expertly weaving together details from his autobiographical writings and his own and others’ letters and diaries. Tóibín’s great achievement is his imagining of Mann’s interior life in all its intellectual achievement and emotional muddle ... Tóibín is equally insightful on the nature of literary creation, revealing the intimate connection between Mann’s life and work ... It is a considerable feat of literary empathy, which transports the reader back to some of the key events of the 20th century and into the mind of one of its master chroniclers.
... an absorbing novel which also contains fascinating details of German life, at home and in exile during the first half of the 20th Century ... Tóibín tells Mann’s story in a sparse, economic style, with short sentences and very little expansive description or flowery prose. This makes the book both accessible and incredibly easy to read, occasionally bringing to mind a classic family saga. Initially however there are times when the reader hopes for more insight into Mann’s inner life, particularly when it comes to his writing, and to understand how he feels about the situations he finds himself in rather than simply seeing his reaction ... For me, the true joy of the novel lies in its second half, as Mann grapples with world political events and finds himself a writer in exile, a German intellectual watching from afar the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party. There are flashes of humour, particularly as the family learns English, and a fascinating insight into the higher echelons of American political and academic life ... This beautifully detailed book is about Thomas Mann, but his family are far from the supporting cast. The novel has the depth and space to give the reader gripping detail about his children, including the troubled writer Klaus and the fascinating Erika, who was a woman of many roles, including war correspondent. Even the grandchildren get entertaining walk-on parts. But for me the star of the book was Katia, Mann's life long partner.
Tóibín renders with nuance and grace Thomas’ conflicted heart as he is fiercely loyal to his homeland yet forced to flee Nazi Germany and a devoted but emotionally unavailable father whose diaries contain his repressed fantasies of young men. Employing luxurious prose that quietly evokes the tortured soul behind these literary masterpieces, Tóibín has an unequalled gift for mapping the interior of genius. In Mann, Toibin finds the ideal muse, one whose interior is so rich and vast that only a similar genius could hope to capture it.
It’s a busy, comprehensive narrative centered on a complex, conflicted husband, father, and writer facing family problems and crises and rarely failing to put in his four hours at the desk before lunch ... The personal and public history is compelling, but the book may disappoint some readers' expectations. Fans of Mann may question the novel’s scant treatment of his writing ... The new novel does at times drag like a conventional biography with the weight of mundane details and repetition, and overall it feels overlong. But Tóibín succeeds in conveying his fascination ... An intriguing view of a writer who well deserves another turn on the literary stage.