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Novel evening as writer gives a master class

Hand-in-hand with Colm Toibin’s status as a literary heavyweight, it was an unassuming and extremely witty individual who entertained a packed auditorium at the Baby Grand last night.

Toibin explained the genesis of his latest novel Brooklyn, which made the long-list for this year’s Booker prize, in stories from his early life in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford.

These embraced his father’s death when Toibin was 12, the elderly woman who came to the house afterwards and whose daughter inspired Eilis Lacey, Brooklyn’s heroine, and Toibin’s own aunts and their voracious shopping habits.

“One of my aunts was notoriously good at the Dublin sales and always came back with just what she wanted. The other, not so good,” he said.

Those warmly-recounted anecdotes segued into vignettes about his university teaching in America, including a dismal stint in Austin, Texas where he said the absence of a simple banana sandwich came to embody all that he missed about home.

“And I hate banana sandwiches,” he deadpanned.

Mr Toibin read passages from Brooklyn, interspersed with his views on literature, including much praise of Jane Austen and Henry James.

It was like a master class in novel writing as he told how he warned his Texan students to avoid back story, facial descriptions, adverbs and too many adjectives.

He then took questions from the floor — but shame on us all, only one person had the courage to speak out and probe the master.

MARGARET CANNING

Belfast Telegraph

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