Colm Tóibín seems to me like a writer at the top of his game, with every book in the last decade or so -- The Testament of Mary, Nora Webster, The Empty Family, and Brooklyn, being released this week as a film -- a real stunner.
He dismissed that idea with a laugh in today's interview in The Washington Post, timed to coincide the film adaptation starring Saoirse Ronan.
"You can say that," he told me, "but I’ll have to say to you: Those sentences are written one by one."
I asked him about how he creates the quiet intensity of novels such as Brooklyn, in a segment that we didn't have space for in The Post.
Brooklyn, while suspenseful and a page turner, is also a very quiet book, too. How do you manage that?
"I suppose I found a style for the book very early on which were pretty simple sentences, and I was also interested in being in her mind all the time, but not having her reflecting on herself. Merely allowing her to notice a great deal. So she has a real intelligence in the way she notices, sees things, looks, misses nothing, but I don’t give her huge powers of analysis. She doesn’t tend to analyse things as much as notice them. And I moved very carefully with that, so it looks as if you’re moving in on a surface, but what you’re doing is you’re entering as the reader into her spirit, into her mind or her imagination, and almost sort of becoming her. Therefore, if you give her a dilemma – it seems at first as if it’s going to be very simple, that her life in exile will comes right very quickly, but once you set things wrong for her and you give her a dilemma, the reader comes very close to that dilemma because of the way I’ve tried to keep the reader very close in to her.
"For example, if you write in the first person singular, you have this voice, and the reader feels distant. If you her constantly analysing and going over things that have happened, you have the reader thinking, well that’s who she is, I’m not that. But if you have her noticing and seeing only, and you get to know her via how her eyes work, and what she sees, then the reader can get very close in, and start to see, too. That’s would be the theory of it."
I think it's more than a theory, at least when Colm Tóibín does it.
The full interview ran on The Post Web site today.