Thursday 22 August 2019

John Banville says those criticising Colm Tóibín's comments on genre fiction should 'grow up'

The Brooklyn author made the comments in an interview with The Guardian

Colm Tóibín
Colm Tóibín
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

Author John Banville says those criticising Colm Tóibín over his comments on genre fiction need to 'grow up’.

Tóibín, author of Brooklyn and The Master, made the comments in an interview with The Guardian at the weekend.

Responding to the question, "Which books do you feel are most overrated?", he replied, "I can't do thrillers and I can't do spy novels.  I can't do any genre-fiction books, really, none of them.  I just get bored with the prose.  I don't find any rhythm in it.  It's blank, it's nothing; it's like watching TV."

He added that he does not watch television because he does not have a TV.

His comments prompted reaction on social media from several fellow authors including Marian Keyes, Stephen Fry, and Sheila O'Flanagan.

Keyes tweeted, "Sez the lad who wrote a Maeve Binchy pastiche and managed to persuade people it was literary fiction" with several laughing face emojis.

Fry wrote, "I love you Colm, but really? Try @LeeChildReacher (and James Lee Burke as @PhilipPullman suggests). And John Le Carré, Len Deighton, Mick Herron and … Graham Greene? A major minor writer is usually so much more rewarding than a minor major one..."

Irish writer Sheila O'Flanagan accused Toibin of being "snobbish".

"Brooklyn! Sorry but Colm Tóibín is being snobbish here," she wrote.  "There is plenty of rhythm in the prose of genre. Not in all, of course, just like not all literary fiction is a work of art. Le Carré writes great prose. As for TV - Chernobyl was full of rhythm."

Speaking to, Banville, who writes crime novels under the alias of Benjamin Black, said that those criticizing Toibin should "grow up".

"I think they should grow up, and suppress their inferiority complex because they have nothing to feel inferior about. Some of the finest writers of the 20th century wrote crime fiction," he said.

The author cited Raymond Chandler and Georges Simenon as examples.

"For me there is just good writing and bad writing.”

Black said he understood some of the points Toibin made in regards to prose, as crime writing tends to focus more on character and plot than prose.

“Colm is free to read what he wants,” he said.

Others also came to Tóibín's defence on social media, including RTE Gold presenter Rick O'Shea, who has been hosting the hugely successful Rick O'Shea Book Club since 2014.

"The crucifixion I see Colm Toibin getting in the @ROSBookClub and elsewhere is boggling," he wrote.

"He doesn't find anything in thrillers/spy novels. He's not saying they're crap, that's a personal reading choice, right? I read very few thrillers either. So?"

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