Colm Tóibín's new appointment at Princeton University ensures he will be in New York with more frequency we can hope, and it's an opportunity to hear the great Irish author speak when he comes to town. I was lucky to catch his talk at NYU's Ireland House a fortnight ago, where he was on hand to meet his many many fans. Everyone at the event seemed to have his new book "Brooklyn" on their laps, and the room was alive with knowing laughter when he referred to Éilís and other characters from this book about exile, because Tóibín is a storyteller with a loving following.
I've read "Blackwater Lightship," and the memory of the women in that book will never leave me. That's why I have to read "Mothers & Sons," because it promises more of his famous power for empathy. "The Master" was an audio book for me, some books I want to be told to me as by a storyteller from a time when people gathered to listen to literature. It's about a fateful period in the life of Henry James by an equally prolific novelist and essayist. (You can have a little bit of that experience, as Tóibín reads excerpts from "Brooklyn" in the embedded lecture below.) I have read many essays by Tóibín, who writes widely and masterfully. His latest book, "Brooklyn," I now have, and will begin reading this week, at home in that very borough. The characters of "Brooklyn" are not necessarily at home there, but are in that liminal place between home and the emigrant's new life abroad.
It's about a woman who leaves Tóibín's hometown in Wexford to find a new life here. Ireland House was emotionally charged when he spoke, as so many seemed to share these exile experiences, and at the end, Tóibín made a connection with a woman (pictured to the right with her son) whose relative was on the golf team back home with his own aunt, a model for the book's main character. You can see Tóibín looking very happily and nostalgically at a black and white photo she had brought with her, that showed the friends in golf gear at the clubhouse in Enniscorthy.
Tóibín's been short-listed for the Booker Prize for two of his books. "Brooklyn" is his sixth novel. He has five books of non-fiction published. He is a regular journalist, like his father before him, and writes book reviews and essays for presitigious outfits. He has a new work to follow "Brooklyn" and we'll find out more about that this year. He won the highly coveted Costa prize for "Brooklyn," naming it the novel of the year.