The new novel by Colm Tóibín draws largely from the author’s memories of his father passing away when he was young. In a Guardian essay, the author writes about his discovery that literature can be a vessel for grief, with a nod to the writer and Dublin mainstay Mary Lavin. If you’d like to learn more about Tóibín’s fiction, you can read our pieces on his books.
As of this morning, the 2014 IMPAC Dublin longlist is out, and the titles that made the final cut are an eclectic assortment. The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín (which we reviewed) made the cut, as did The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson (which won the Pulitzer earlier this year) and Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (which won the Booker Prize).
When you close your eyes and picture the Virgin Mary, what do you see? There are countless possibilities, a woman with a halo of light around her tilted head, a cloaked figure with tears of blood or a vaguely burnt apparition on a slice of toast. Your answer will depend on how you were raised, the galleries you have visited, or the books you have read. Regardless of how you’ve come across her, Mary is part of a story you’ve been told. She is a powerful symbol of motherhood. And she is not only a mother, but the mother of Christ. Your view on him will probably dictate what she means to you. In Tóibín’s hand, Mary is more than her role as a mother or a symbol. Instead, she becomes the most interesting of creatures: a credible human.
If I can’t believe in God, I do believe in fiction. Reading a novel is an act of devotion that will slowly, I hope, build an empathetic understanding of people and experience beyond my own.
The world that fiction comes from is fragile. It melts into insignificance against the universe of what is clear and visible and known. It persists because it is based on the power of cadence and rhythm in language and these are mysterious and hard to defeat and keep in their place. The difference between fact and fiction is like the difference between land and water.