Book Review: Colm Tóibín’sThe Magician offers an often interesting portrait of a complicated writer

The Magician, the new novel from Irish author Colm Tóibín, explores the live of the acclaimed German author Thomas Mann. It’s a novel that spans decades, continents and two World Wars – all in fewer pages than you would expect. 

It is an interesting novel. Whilst it’s clearly incredibly well researched, and it has prompted me to want to delve into Mann’s catalogue of work, at times it was something of a struggle. 

To start there’s an ever expanding cast of characters – Mann’s list of family and friends is expansive. Many of them seem to be called Klaus, and most of them seem to alternate between despairing of Mann or asking him for money and favours. With such an extensive list, not all of these supporting characters feel fully developed, but are named if only for historical accuracy. 

And, despite the novel being centred on the novelist – much of the writing seems to be done off page; novels are written and published in a matter of pages. The process if glossed over, and indeed much of Mann’s work as shown to have strong autobiographical elements, with little attention paid to the forces of creativity and imagination in the writing process. 

One of the elements of the novel I enjoyed the most was the novel’s depiction of a changing Germany, and the ways in which Mann had to change with it. In the novel, at the outbreak of World War One, Mann is shown to be in the grip of patriotic fervour. This changes over the course of the war, and the intervening years, to the point where he and his family need to flee the country  as Nazism takes route. 

As the central character it is no surprise that Thomas Mann is the most developed of the novel’s characters. Tóibín captures the apparent complex and contradictory nature of his character well, and does so with sensitivity and poise. He’s not always the most likeable character in the scene, but he’s often the most compelling and interesting. As I say, it’s made me want to read more of his work, so perhaps the novel’s work is done? 


Colm Tóibín’s The Magician is out now from Pan Macmillan. Grab yourself a copy from Booktopia HERE.

Simon Clark

Books Editor. An admirer of songs and reader of books. Simon has a PhD in English and Comparative Literature. All errant apostrophes are his own.

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