The Magician by Colm Tóibín – Book Review

Book Title: The Magician

Author: Colm Tóibín

Genre/Themes: Literary fiction, Fictionalised Biography, Historical Fiction, World War II, LGBTQ+, Exile

Blurb from Goodreads

From one of our greatest living writers comes a sweeping novel of unrequited love and exile, war and family.

The Magician tells the story of Thomas Mann, whose life was filled with great acclaim and contradiction. He would find himself on the wrong side of history in the First World War, cheerleading the German army, but have a clear vision of the future in the second, anticipating the horrors of Nazism.

He would have six children and keep his homosexuality hidden; he was a man forever connected to his family and yet bore witness to the ravages of suicide. He would write some of the greatest works of European literature, and win the Nobel Prize, but would never return to the country that inspired his creativity.

Through one life, Colm Tóibín tells the breathtaking story of the twentieth century.

My Review

Colm Tóibín is one of my favourite writers of all time and his excellent recent novel The Magician has further cemented his place in my heart.

The Magician is a fictionalised biography of the life and times of Thomas Mann, a German novelist and a sometimes reluctant orator during World War II. It’s apparent from the earliest pages that Tóibín has researched this novel right down to the minutiae; it’s simply outstandingly well written and made this reader really feel as if she knew the inner workings of the mind of Mann.

For those that do not know, Thomas Mann was a German novelist (1875-1955) who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1929. Some of his best known works include Buddenbrooks, The Magic Mountain and Death in Venice. He was also someone that wrote a great many essays and gave speeches that were in opposition to the Nazi regime in Germany… but through Tóibín’s fictionalised biography of the man we learn so much more about the nuances of his life; about his complicated sexuality, about his relationships with his wife and children, and about his complex feelings regarding Germany and the German peoples in and around the time of World War II. I found myself reading this book during a time of the greatest instability in Europe since the days of the Second World War as Russia just invaded Ukraine and that caused me to feel more keenly much of the turmoil of emotion felt by Mann.

One of the best aspects of this novel is that Thomas Mann isn’t fawned over by Tóibín. What I mean by that is that Mann is written in quite an authentic fashion and at times comes across rather unfavourably… no doubt as we all would as error-prone human beings. He was a very fallible person that at times prioritised the success and sales of his novels in Germany rather than speak out against the Nazi regime from the earliest possible moment. This was in contrast to his children, particularly Erika and Klaus, and it was this contrast and almost dichotomy of viewpoints that made this incredibly readable and deeply fascinating.

Although Mann married a woman, Katia Pringsheim, and had six children it is widely accepted that he was gay. Tóibín excels at showing this almost hidden inner world of Mann and how it influenced his writing notably Death in Venice. Tóibín also explored how Mann’s sexuality was quietly accepted by his family especially his wife Katia. I found their relationship to be utterly compelling to read about. Katia was a fascinating person in her own right and in The Magician her strength and depth of character really leapt off the page.

All in all this was an utterly compelling reading experience that made me long to read Mann’s own works (I’ve not read anything by him as of yet). I found Tóibín’s command and use of language to be immensely readable and very thought provoking.

Highly recommended

Other Works by Colm Tóibín I’ve Reviewed

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