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The Magician

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Member Reviews

What an absolutely stunning novel with a fascinating angle to Thomas Mann's life.  Colm Toibin's writing is, as always, exquisite, and I enjoyed every hour / day (it is a LONG book) in the company of his fictionalised versions of these characters.  When I started reading the book, I was in fact visiting Lübeck and wanted to tour the Mann house, but unfortunately, it was undergoing renovations and closed to the public. 
I am already making a list of people who will get a copy of this book for Christmas - it more than lived up to my (already high because.... Toibin!) expectations.
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Tóibín writes beautifully, drawing the reader into the story of Thomas Mann. This is a book immersed in German culture, literature, art and music, and follows Mann as he is shaped by his surroundings, his repressed sexuality and the turbulent history he lived through. 
While this is a fictionalised account of Thomas Mann’s life, this did have the feel of a non fiction book. I know nothing about Mann, and while this book has made me want to learn more, I felt at times Mann did feel a little mechanic, for lack of a better word - I would have liked his inner thoughts and feelings to be explored more.
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Drawn by the author's name and repute, rather than by the content, at first I really wasn't sure how much I would love this book. It wasn't long however before I found myself just keeping on reading, curioser and curioser about where it might lead. Based on a real life, it could only lead one way, of course, but how it takes you there is quietly gripping, creating an engagement with and concern for a man, a family, I have never had any previous interest in and shall never think of again. Now I know why Tóibín has such legions of fans.
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"The Magican" is the wonderful Colm Tóibín’s sensitive and captivating account of the real-life Nobel Prize winning author Thomas Mann. We meet Mann as a teenager in 1891 and follow the story of his life, through two world wars, various family triumphs and tragedies, and the episodes in his life that inspired his most celebrated works. 

The story is clearly fictionalised, allowing us an insight into the thoughts and feelings of Thomas and his family members. However, it is also meticulously researched, giving the reader a window into the real events, politics and tensions of the time, as seen through the eyes of Mann and those closest to him. The book is very lengthy, and deals with themes such as anti-Semitism, suicide, and the illegality of homosexuality at the time. Tóibín’s skills as an author, though, mean that the tale retains a deftness of touch that renders the work philosophical but not heavy-handed.

Although I had little prior knowledge of Thomas Mann or his work, I don’t believe these hampered my enjoyment of this fascinating story, and I would strongly recommend this book to any fans of Mann’s, or historical fiction more widely.

My thanks to the author, NetGalley, and the publisher for the arc to review.
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A highly accomplished and well researched fictional biography of the German novelist Thomas Mann.  Not only is it well written, it also takes the reader through the life events that inspired his storylines and shaped his work. It explored the struggles that Mann had with his sexuality in a way which was non-judgmental and objective and helps the reader better understand the man and the writer. The extended family - his mother, brother, children and in-laws - also featured in their varying degrees of damaged complexity and when I finished the novel, I felt I had learnt quite a lot about all of them but had also been entertained. Having only read one Thomas Mann novel myself (the Magic Mountain), I do feel compelled to search out some of the others as well as the works of his son and brother.

With thanks to the author, the publisher and NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review
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This is a writer I have greatly enjoyed in the past. Nora Webster and Brooklyn were humorous, beautifully-observed and psychologically deep. Much of Toibin's skill comes from the vivid evocation of scene and setting through implication, through what is overheard or intuited. In this biographical novel of the writer Thomas Mann (author, as the book's cover reiterates, of Death in Venice) this style works well in the early scenes where Thomas is growing up, discovering his bisexuality but still marrying. But once he becomes a well-known figure with a bewilderingly intricate array of relatives, the reader struggles to maintain sympathy or interest. Events such as the Weimar inflation, Hitler's rise to power, the outbreak of World War 2, are described with the thoroughness of a conscientious biographer - we are told where Mann was at the time, and who with - but with none of the psychological acuteness, the significance of the minor detail, that I expect from Toibin. There is no sense that we are dealing with one of the leading intellectual novelists of the century. Mann makes rather simplistic remarks such as 'I won the Nobel Prize in Literature. I know what language Dante wrote in!' Early on, there are some enjoyable descriptions of Gustav Mahler at work conducting his Eighth Symphony, though I don't think it is quite accurate to say 'It was a sign of Mahler's fame and power that he could summon an orchestra and chorus of this size and scope' - the point about the Eighth is that it not just orchestra and chorus, because there are so many solo singers too. There is an enjoyable scene describing a visit to the beach at Venice where Visconti's excellent film serves as a reference point.  I feel that Toibin's success in previous books is due to close observation of characters who express themselves through feelings rather than thoughts, but here this approach is sadly out of keeping with the subject. I can recommend the first third of the book but I wish I could be more enthusiastic about the rest of it.
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In his latest novel, The Magician, Tóibin chronicles the life of the author Thomas Mann from childhood to his dying days. He has done so in a form of fictionalised biography that links Mann’s private life with wider social change both in Germany and beyond.  Its a novel with family at its heart; tensions, rivalries and unspoken desires. It follows Mann’s literary career, as well as his exile to America due to the rise of the Nazis.  Despite a long lasting marriage and six children Mann was always attracted to men but suppressed his sexuality.  He lived through a particularly turbulent time in European history and his political views often seem unconventional at best.  
What I loved about this novel was the way in which fact and fiction were welded together to paint a highly enjoyable portrait of Mann and his life.  If like me, you are interested in Thomas Mann its an easy  and engaging way to find out more about his life and work.  His early family life depicting his relationship with his arty Brazilian mother and strict German father was insightful; as well as his rivalry with his  elder brother Heinrich.  His marriage to Katia and his subsequent experience of fatherhood also gives a glimpse into upper class parenting and his lack of involvement in his children’s upbringing.  His suppressed sexuality could have been delved into further; but it didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the book in any way.  I found the historical backdrop, the people he encountered including Mahler,  Wagner, Einstein amongst others fascinating.  Overall, this is an engrossing read which will no doubt by enjoyed by fans of Tóibin’s skilful writing. 
Huge thanks to NetGalley, the publisher Penguin Books and the author for the opportunity to read this in return for an honest review.
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I was really looking forward to reading this book it sadly I was disappointed. Despite making a number of attempts to get into the story I didn’t succeed. This was undoubtedly down to me as the book is very well written but unfortunately not the book for me.
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My thanks to Penguin U.K./Viking for an eARC via NetGalley of ‘The Magician’ by Colm Tóibín in exchange for an honest review.

‘The Magician’ is a fictional biography of German writer, Thomas Mann. Years ago I had read Mann’s 1912 novella, ‘Death in Venice’ and at times I have considered scaling his ‘The Magic Mountain’ - yet I had no knowledge of Mann’s life and work and so was intrigued by this novel’s premise.

Thomas Mann is considered one of the greatest writers of 20th-century European literature and had won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1929. His life was quite complex - balancing a seemingly conventional marriage with his desires for young men. His struggles were detailed in his private diaries that were eventually unsealed and informed later biographies and literary criticism. 

Colm Tóibín focuses upon the contradictions within Mann’s personal life as well as his turbulent relationship with his homeland, including his vocal stance against Nazism and his campaigning for the USA to enter WWII. 

The novel also tells the story of the first half of the twentieth century through the lens of this singular life and his extended family. I felt that Colm Tóibín was skilled in creating realistic dialogue and I had to remind myself more than once that I was reading a novel. 

This was my first experience of Colm Tóibín’s writing though I am now eager to read more of his novels, especially his fictional biography of Henry James. I was not only impressed by his writing but by the depth of his research and at how well he handled his large cast of characters set against the epic backdrop of history. 

Overall, an ambitious and lyrical work of literary fiction that I found highly engaging.
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I knew nothing about Thomas Mann, except that he was an author, and I like fictionalisations of historical figures. So fir me this was a great read. . Well written , as expected of a Colm Toibin, , i  found this an engrossing read., and will recommend it, whenever i can.
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Colm Tobin is a fantastic writer. So much research went into this book which is about Thomas Mann – an award-winning German writer. At times it felt like a biography snd sometimes like a fictional story. 
This would not be my typical genre but I enjoyed reading my way though. I knew nothing about Thomas Mann before this story. I gave this a 3.5 star rating.
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Colm Tóibín’s book about Thomas Mann is a cross between a novel and biography, imaging dialogue between himself and family, using established historical information to root the novel in reality.  I found this to be a slow burn but once you get a third way through you are totally hooked.  The tragedies Mann endures throughout his life are well detailed and I came away with a greater knowledge of Mann than I had previously.  The Magician is well worth reading, especially if you would like to get to know more about Thomas Mann and the historical events taking when each of his novels were written.
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The Magician by Colm Tóibín

Colm Tóibín is one of my favourite writers so I was delighted to get an ARC of his latest book. This is a biography of the writer Thomas Mann and an insight into life and politics in Germany in the early 20th century.
It is well written, fastidiously researched and interesting but despite this I struggled to get into it and put it aside at 50% complete. For me this is  a straightforward biography but I wanted more emotional depth and character / relationship development.
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This is a wonderful novel: fiction based in reality, aspects of the story of a great writer, Thomas Mann, told by another, Colm Tóibín. I am not a biography person, and this novel does what a novel does: create a character who goes through a peripeteia and in so doing enlightens our own life and world. The fact that the character is a historical one, and a writer I have read with great enjoyment, makes it doubly interesting. In fact, it deepens the many insights the novel affords about living, creating, surviving at a crucial time of the 20c (Mann being German and living when he does is of course crucial to the novel's objectives).

Mann's life is definitely worth telling (the shadow of ancestors, the search for identity, the choice of partner, the construction of a career, the finding of subjects, the making of a family...) I found the way Tóibín marshals the disparate elements of anyone's life into a coherent fictional narrative deeply interesting, as well as the wonderful style of his prose, able to make you be in a place with just a few well-chosen words, a comment directing your attention to an object, the description of a particular dress. The links between biography and fictional creation are explored thoughtfully, always in an entertaining manner (Death in Venice, The Magic Mountain...). Again, this is a fiction and the ambiguities, omissions, emphasis, leave the reader able to complete the possible picture either using her imagination, or even sending her back to Mann's novels, or the extensive further reading section the author has included - he has definitely done his reading!!

A great book that will give pleasure to all readers interested in the life of an artist and the difficulties, compromises, decisions made in order to fulfil an ambition. I loved it. Thank you so much to Penguin via NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this wonderful novel.
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I have always enjoyed reading Colm Toibin’s novels.  So, I was surprised to find that ‘The Magician’ was a struggle at times.  I am assuming that a lot of research went into the writing of it and perhaps the desire to include all the biographical detail interfered with the author’s usually brilliant ability to create living, breathing characters with real emotional depth.
That said, Toibin is writing about a fascinating time in Germany’s history and the different conversations about Fascism and its aftermath are absorbing.  However, I kept on wondering whether a traditionally written biography might have served the author’s purpose better?
My thanks to NetGalley and Penguin General UK for a copy of this novel in exchange for a fair review.
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The Magician tells us a fictionalised version of Thomas Mann's life. In it Toibin takes some liberties, sure, but I hear the story is well researched and much of it is based on accounts and diaries from those around him, including his children.
I haven't read any of his books (yet), but I was intrigued by the man, and this book, although sometimes a bit dry and distant (I agree with many other reviewers there), still did not disappoint me (although perhaps the book could be condensed, as it doesn't feel like much happens).
I enjoyed learning about Mann, and I will be picking up other books from Colm Toibin. I think fans of Thomas Mann will enjoy reading this book.

Many thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest opinion.
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This is a fictionalised telling of the life of German author, Thomas Mann. Whilst it seemed meticulously researched, the authorial voice felt dispassionate and dry to me. I assume this was an intended style used to give the book a biographical feel, but it meant I didn't really connect with it.
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I thought this was pretty dreadful and I could hardly bear to finish it. Such a disappointment. I know Toibin can write better than this. Has he become lazy and is just resting on his reputation? It’s a fictionalised biography of Thomas Mann and surely any fictionalised biography is a chance for the author to indulge his imagination in a way that he can’t in a non-fiction account. And yet the writing here is so flat, with so little emotion, that I got no insight into Mann’s feelings, no sense of any interiority, but just a bland blow-by-blow account of a life. Perhaps Toibin was trying to reflect Mann’s own lack of affect but surely he should have at least attempted to get inside Mann’s head. The writing skims over cataclysmic events such as WWI, the rise of Hitler, and the traumas of Mann’s family members, and there’s little sense of time passing. The constant harping on about Mann’s repressed homosexuality is overdone and some of the accounts of his early adolescent fumblings puzzling rather than enlightening. The recreated dialogue is particularly weak and no one comes truly alive. I can only assume Toibin has done his research and that the book is at least factually accurate, but as a novel I found it uninspiring and unengaging.
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I read a lot, and this is one of the best books I've read for ages.

The Magician of the title is Thomas Mann, German novelist and is set in the early/mid 20th century - with much of the action taking place around the two world wars.

I knew nothing about Thomas Mann beforehand, but have spent a whole load of time on the internet after I finished, reading up more about him, his wife, and six children - all of whom are immensely fascinating and pursue their own passions.

During the war period, anticipating the Nazi terror, Mann is able to escape to the US, where he is torn between making political statements, and living a quiet life as a novelist. His six children are all incredible characters, each ruled by their own passions, and this infuses the novel with life, emotion, love and conflict.

Such a fascinating story.
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Colm Toibin wrote my very favourite book, Brooklyn, so it's strange that I've never picked up another one of his novels. When The Magician popped up in my email, it seemed like the perfect time, even though I initially wasn't drawn to a very chunky novel about Thomas Mann, a writer that I have never even read.

I am glad I read this, although it doesn't come anywhere close to reaching my love of Brooklyn. Thomas Mann is a writer born in Lübeck in the 1870s, and The Magician tells the story of his life: his aspirations, his family, the way his life interacts with the tumultuous events of the 20th century. Colm Toibin writes sparsely and with detachment, and his sentences are full of quotidian detail. I absolutely adored this in Brooklyn; I felt as if his characters were real, solid people and during a reread, I dreamily wandered the streets of Brooklyn imagining where Eilis lived. But because Thomas Mann was a real person, I wasn't sure what was fictional and what was real; how much Colm Toibin invented and how much was siphoned from Thomas Mann's (seemingly very large cachet of) diaries and letters. So, yes, it felt a lot like I was reading a fairly unimaginative biography, with a precise parade of sequential events - which is not something I particularly relished.

I wasn't sure how much I cared about the book in the first third. I enjoyed it a lot more once the novel reached the 1930s, as this is a period that holds endless fascination for me. And, as the novel progressed, I grew more and more interested in the cast of characters surrounding Thomas, and developed more affection for the writer himself. I think that's the best part of reading long novels set over a number of years: you grow used to the characters, or at least I do, and you know them and see the way their lives and selfhoods fluctuate over the years. I'm not quite sure how I feel about this book, but I do want to read a Thomas Mann novel now.
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