The author of The Master returns with a novel about the Nobel laureate Thomas Mann. Opening at the turn of the 20th century in provincial Germany, the novel follows the gifted writer from his youth, through his meteoric rise as a celebrity author and intellectual, to a family man with a fluid sexuality and internal struggles.
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.