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Colm Tóibín: In Barcelona, 7 September 2017

... Joan Miró,​ the Catalan painter, who was 82 when Franco died in 1975, had spent the previous 35 years in a sort of internal exile in Palma de Mallorca. Now that the dictator was dead, he was free to come to Barcelona as much as he wanted. He did a poster for the Barça football club; he designed record sleeves for young Catalan singers; he did the costumes for a young theatre group ...

Insiderish

Colm Tóibín, 26 May 1994

Profane Friendship 
by Harold Brodkey.
Cape, 387 pp., £15.99, April 1994, 0 224 03775 7
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... One of the early chapters in Harold Brodkey’s first novel The Runaway Soul is entitled ‘The River’. The narrator, after his father’s death, returns to a landscape which he had known in early childhood. Some of the prose is plain and clear: ‘At the mouth of the stream, where it emptied into the inlet, under willows, lay a very large, ungainly river dinghy ...

The Built-in Reader

Colm Tóibín, 8 April 1993

Dream of Fair to Middling Women 
by Samuel Beckett, edited by Eoin O’Brien and Edith Fournier.
Black Cat, 241 pp., £18.99, November 1992, 0 7145 4212 1
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... There is a moment in Samuel Beckett’s story ‘The Expelled’ in which the hero watches a funeral pass: Personally if I were reduced to making the sign of the cross I would set my heart on doing it right, nose, navel, left nipple, right nipple. But the way they did it, slovenly and wild, he seemed crucified all of a heap, no dignity, his knees under his chin and his hands anyhow ...

Diary

Colm Tóibín: In the Pyrenees, 6 January 1994

... Towards the end of November 1975 I was doing my shopping in the Boquería market off the Ramblas in Barcelona when I bumped into Bernard Loughlin, with whom I worked in an institution called the Dublin School of English. To mourn the passing of Generalissimo Franco on 20 November we had all been given ten days off. I had spent them in the city, wandering around in search of riots, old bars and potential sleeping partners ...

Dissecting the Body

Colm Tóibín: Ian McEwan, 26 April 2007

On Chesil Beach 
by Ian McEwan.
Cape, 166 pp., £12.99, April 2007, 978 0 224 08118 4
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... The penis, in the contemporary novel, has been a mighty matter, looming large. Who will forget the narrator of The Bell Jar seeing an adult penis for the first time and being both fascinated and repelled? (‘The only thing I could think of was turkey neck and turkey gizzards and I felt very depressed.’) Or Fermina Daza, in a darkened room in García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, announcing, ‘I have never been able to understand how that thing works,’ and then slowly realising all the magical tricks this little rubbery object could do when suitably inspired? (‘She grasped the animal under study without hesitation, turned it this way and that, observed it with an interest that was beginning to seem more than scientific, and said when she was finished: “How ugly it is, even uglier than a woman’s thing ...

Like Learning to Swim in Early Middle Age

Colm Tóibín, 20 April 1995

Shelf Life: Essays, Memoirs and an Interview 
by Thom Gunn.
Faber, 230 pp., £14.99, July 1994, 0 571 17196 6
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... Fame is difficult for a writer to deal with,’ Thom Gunn writes in his essay on Allen Ginsberg’s poetry. ‘It dries you up, or it makes you think you are infallible, or your writing becomes puffed out with self-esteem. (Victor Hugo thought himself superior to both Jesus and Shakespeare.) It is a complication that the imagination can well do without ...

A House Full of No One

Colm Tóibín, 6 February 1997

Heaven’s Coast: A Memoir 
by Mark Doty.
Cape, 305 pp., £16.99, October 1996, 0 224 04390 0
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Atlantis 
by Mark Doty.
Cape, 95 pp., £7, July 1996, 0 224 04400 1
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This Wild Darkness: The Story of My Death 
by Harold Brodkey.
Fourth Estate, 177 pp., £14.99, November 1996, 1 85702 546 6
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PWA: Looking Aids in the Face 
by Oscar Moore.
Picador, 185 pp., £6.99, November 1996, 0 330 35193 1
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... The words ‘HIV Positive’ and ‘Aids’ do not appear in the poems in Mark Doty’s My Alexandria (1995); instead, they hover in the spaces between the other words, and they govern the tone of almost every poem. Now, with the appearance of Heaven’s Coast: A Memoir, we know that Doty’s boyfriend Wally Roberts was dying slowly from Aids when these poems were being written ...

How many nipples had Graham Greene?

Colm Tóibín, 9 June 1994

... He received one hundred and eighty letters a month, he told one of his correspondents. Some of them were fan letters; others came from journalists who kept him informed about the places in the world which he cared about; academics wrote with lists of questions; publishers wrote looking for quotes for books they were about to publish. Authors wrote. In 1973 Greene wrote to Josef Skvorecky: ‘Your letters reach the length of a book by this time ...

He’ll have brought it on Himself

Colm Tóibín, 22 May 1997

Sex, Nation and Dissent in Irish Writing 
edited by Éibhear Walshe.
Cork, 210 pp., £40, April 1997, 1 85918 013 2
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Gooddbye to Catholic Ireland 
by Mary Kenny.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 320 pp., £20, March 1997, 1 85619 751 4
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... Sometime in the early sixties, when I was eight or nine, the actor Micheál MacLiammóir came to Enniscorthy, a small town in the south-east of Ireland where we lived, to perform his one-man show The Importance of Being Oscar. My uncle, who was a staunch member of Fianna Fáil, the ruling party, and a fervent member of the ruling church – he was later decorated by the Pope – bought us all tickets, and we attended, as did many others in the town, in a family group ...

Diary

Colm Tóibín: Alone in Venice, 19 November 2020

... Suddenly,​ there was nothing to complain about. No cruise ships went up the Giudecca Canal. There were no tourists clogging up the narrow streets. Piazza San Marco was often completely deserted. On some bridges a few gondoliers stood around, but there was no one to hire them. Instead, dogs and their owners walked the streets, with no one pushing them out of the way ...

The Playboy of West 29th Street

Colm Tóibín: Yeats’s Father in Exile, 25 January 2018

... had heard one of the librarians telling someone on the phone in a half-whisper that someone called Colm Tóibín was in the library looking at the correspondence of John Butler Yeats, which had been transcribed, then typed, then donated to the library by William M. Murphy, John Butler Yeats’s biographer. And now I looked up from the Yeats letters to ...

New Ways of Killing Your Father

Colm Tóibín, 18 November 1993

Paddy and Mr Punch: Connections in Irish and English History 
by R.F. Foster.
Allen Lane, 305 pp., £22.50, October 1993, 0 7139 9095 3
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... In 1969, two years after my father died, my mother, my sisters and I went to Wexford for the launch of a new history of the 1798 Rising, The Year of Liberty by Thomas Pakenham. The Rising was important for us: from our housing estate we could see Vinegar Hill where ‘our side’, the rebels, had made their last stand. From early childhood I knew certain things (I hesitate to say ‘facts’) about the Rising: how the English had muskets whereas we just had pikes, how the English poured boiling tar on the scalps of the Irish and then, when the tar had dried, peeled it off ...

The South

Colm Tóibín, 4 August 1994

One Art: The Selected Letters of Elizabeth Bishop 
Chatto, 668 pp., £25, April 1994, 0 7011 6195 7Show More
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... Even in the morning in that year the two-hour hotels were in bloom. The city was full of desire. It was hot. I stayed for a while in a narrow street near the Flamingo Park and went out some days to swim at Copacabana. It was that time between the death of Elizabeth Bishop and the appearance of the first biography and this volume of letters, when the ordinary reader on this side of the Atlantic knew very little about her ...

So much for shame

Colm Tóibín, 10 June 1993

Haughey: His Life and Unlucky Deeds 
by Bruce Arnold.
HarperCollins, 299 pp., £17.50, May 1993, 0 00 255212 4
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... My father was a supporter of the Fianna Fail Party. ‘You could salute Fine Gael people,’ he once told my sister – Fine Gael was the main opposition party – ‘but if you ever actually voted Fine Gael, your right hand would wither off.’ Throughout my childhood I believed that you could recognise a Fine Gael person merely by looking at him or her ...

‘What is your nation if I may ask?’

Colm Tóibín: Jews in Ireland, 30 September 1999

Jews in 20th-century Ireland: Refugees, Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust 
by Dermot Keogh.
Cork, 336 pp., £45, March 1998, 9781859181492
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... In 1965, when Eamon de Valera was President of Ireland, the Irish Jewish community decided to honour him. They chose a site near Nazareth and planted a forest of ten thousand trees named after him. They also commissioned a book of Celtic symbols. They made effusive speeches in his praise in both Ireland and Israel. Jacob Herzog, the political director in the Prime Minister’s office, whose father had been Chief Rabbi in Ireland, wrote that Eamon de Valera’s leadership, integrity, deep humanity and sense of purpose have for many decades now left their imprint on the international community ...

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