Thursday 26 April 2018

The deeper urges of the lone writer

The house of fiction, as Henry James famously observed, has many windows. On a less metaphorical level, the Dublin house of James's fictional chronicler, Colm Tóibín, has many studies -- three to be precise, as he revealed in the Sunday Times's A Life in the Day column.

In his description of a typical day he painted an endearing picture of almost undergraduate lassitude -- rising late, lunching alone in a nearby hotel (Do I look like I want company? the article was forbiddingly titled), indeed reluctant to face anyone until teatime, after which seemingly he's game for anything.

But if this makes him sound like the feckless narrator of At Swim-Two-Birds, he insists that there's nothing haphazard about his working methods, in which he currently alternates between writing a new novel, completing some short stories and fulfilling non-fiction assignments.

And when he's not in his Leeson Street mansion, he's in his Wexford seaside abode, as he told the London Independent (he's all over the English newspapers these days, primarily because Penguin has just issued his story collection, The Empty Family, in paperback).

Asked to name authors he especially admired, he cited George Herbert, Henry James and Ernest Hemingway for their style, George Eliot "for her wisdom" and Jane Austen "for her perfection". And as for his hero or heroine from outside literature, he opted for the great Kathleen Ferrier, who's a heroine of mine, too, even though I've never wished to fulfil the fantasy disclosed by Tóibín: "In another life," he told the paper, "I would like to be a contralto."


Speaking of Hemingway, I've been rereading the marvellous early stories as a way of acknowledging the 50th anniversary of his suicide.

The longer fiction has always struck me as overreaching and overblown but in the short form he frequently worked miracles.

In his book on the short story, Sean O Faolain thought The Light of the World one of the greatest of stories, and so do I. Read it and see why.

Indo Review

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