Being raised by terrorists not all bad - Tóibín

Colm Tóibín, whose latest book, The Testament of Mary, has been widely praised, teaches at Columbia University in New York and likes to tell Americans that although he was "brought up by terrorists" it was never a problem "because they always become very conservative in the end" and turn into "fine upstanding members of the community".

I learn this from the Daily Telegraph, where the Wexford-born author speaks of his uncle, who had been in the IRA.

But he also tells interviewer Nigel Farndale that, despite the queen's historic presence in Dublin's Garden of Remembrance, "we are embarrassed about that place", which is "ugly because it is used to commemorate violence".

As for the Catholic Church, he has some sympathy with priests who are immediately suspended when accused of misdeeds ("What happened to innocence until guilt is proven?"), despite the fact that "wherever they could, the priests just did their worst. Give them an orphanage, an opportunity, and they did their worst".

Tóibín's 2009 novel Brooklyn, which won the Costa prize, is currently being made into a movie by the producers of An Education and with a screenplay by Nick Hornby that Tóibín thinks it is "really very good".

*****

Easily readable, Brooklyn doesn't feature in Robert McCrum's list of 10 Difficult Books to Finish, published last weekend in the Observer, though Joyce's Finnegans Wake does.

"Often baffling" is McCrum's verdict, though he advises that when "read aloud in Hibernian English, the humour begins to emerge". I'll take his word for that and will also trust him on Robert Musil's gargantuan The Man Without Qualities, which defeated me after 40 pages and which McCrum thinks "makes Proust look like Agatha Christie".

Other books on his list include Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano (I caved in there, too) and Will Self's Booker-nominated Umbrella, though he thinks this "exhilaratingly difficult, a high-spirited footnote to the modernism of James Joyce".

Maybe so, but life is short.

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