INEVITABLY THIS NOVEL, based on the life of Katherine Mansfield, invites comparison with Colm Toibin’s recently published The Master, based on the far longer and far less tumultuous life of Henry James. Toibin selects isolated events, many of which at first appear to be of no lasting significance but are soon revealed to have been vital to the development of both James's character and his art. In contrast, C K Stead's is an uninterrupted narrative set in the years 1915-17 - with the exception of an epilogue set in 1918, when Mansfield, having suffered her first haemorrhage, realises that, like her revered Anton Chekhov, she is doomed to die of pulmonary tuberculosis.
It is not difficult to see the artistic reason for Stead having concentrated exclusively on those three years. One of the most fascinating aspects of his book is the way in which he presents in parallel two kinds of engagement - that taking place across the Channel, where innumerable young