News / Arts & Entertainment

Irish Author Colm Toibin Eyes Booker Prize with Dark Gospel Tale

Man Booker Prize 2013 shortlist nominee Colm Toibin poses with his book "The Testament of Mary" during a photo shoot at the Southbank Center in London, October 13, 2013.
Man Booker Prize 2013 shortlist nominee Colm Toibin poses with his book "The Testament of Mary" during a photo shoot at the Southbank Center in London, October 13, 2013.
Reuters
What surprises Irish author Colm Toibin about his latest book is that it hasn't been burned.
 
But he hopes the lack of controversy will not hold back his dark retelling of the Gospels, “The Testament of Mary,” from winning the Man Booker Prize on Tuesday at his third attempt.
 
In the novel, an aging, broken Mary bitterly recounts how “malcontents and half-crazed soothsayers” surrounded her son, helped lead him to a cruel death and then twisted his story to build a new faith.
 
In a country where just a few decades ago the Catholic Church could end the careers of writers it disapproved of, there has not been so much as an email to complain about a work that describes the gospels as “poisonous berries.”
 
“It is really interesting that you can write a book like this here and publish it and not a word,” said Toibin, 58, in an interview en route to the prize ceremony in London from Los Angeles.
 
“It hasn't been controversial. It isn't as though it's been burned anywhere.”
 
Toibin's is one of six novels in the running for the annual Booker, a coveted award that comes with a cheque for 50,000 pounds ($80,000), and, more importantly, a sizeable spike in international books sales.
 
The prize is open for the first time to authors from any country from 2014 as opposed to the United Kingdom, Ireland and the Commonwealth. Favorite in 2013 is Toibin's friend and English writer Jim Crace for “Harvest”.
 
Also shortlisted were Canadian Ruth Ozeki for “A Tale for the Time Being”, Indian/American Jhumpa Lahiri for “The Lowland”, New Zealander Eleanor Catton with “The Luminaries” and Zimbabwean NoViolet Bulawayo for “We Need New Names”.
 
“Lapsed Catholic"
 
Toibin, who explored European Catholicism in a 1994 travel book, describes himself as a “lapsed Irish Catholic," but has no time for mockery of the church that dominated his childhood.
 
“I waver between fierce doubt and a sort of awe at the grandeur of the business of building an entire world view, a religious faith on the death of one man and three years of his life,” he said.
 
The novel, he said, was not intended as an attack on the church or its teachings, but as an exploration of images and stories that were seared onto his psyche as an altar boy in Ireland in the 1960s.
 
Its darkness, he said, echoes his memories as a seven-year-old in a dimly-lit church, with vast images of a bloodied Christ and a priest warning “death comes soon and judgment will follow.”
 
As the novel opens, Mary's memories are being twisted by two unnamed Gospel writers who want a version of events worthy of the son of God.
 
She listens patiently as one explains to her how her son was conceived and how she helped take his body from the cross.
 
Instead she feels pangs of shame as she recalls fleeing the crucifixion when she realized her life was in danger and how she stood by as a family was robbed by her companions.
 
Mary voices doubt
 
The novel does not attempt to disprove the miracles, but lets Mary voice her doubts: that the wine in the jugs she saw was ever water and whether Lazarus had ever really died.
 
Toibin sees an echo of Mary's pain in the mother of suicide bombers or political hunger strikers chosen to die for a higher cause. “It's a much more pressing issue now than it has been for a long time,” he said.
 
While the novel has largely avoided controversy, a staging of the play on which it is based attracted around 100 protesters in New York this year, and a number of U.S. Catholics have sent him emails with abuse, “some of it true”, Toibin says.
 
Toibin seems more weary than excited about the idea of “putting a monkey suit in his bag” and attending another Booker Prize dinner next week after two previous novels “The Blackwater Lightship” and “The Master” both lost after being shortlisted.
 
But he is not paying any heed to the bookmakers, who have Crace as favorite.
 
“The judges could have something entirely surprising, in which case you just to bow your head and applaud the winner,” Toibin said. “I won't have a speech in my inner pocket,” he said. “I'm not doing that this time. I promise.”

You May Like

For Lebanon-based Refugees, Desperation Fuels Perilous Passage

In a war that has caused an estimated three million people to flee Syria, efforts to make perilous sea journey in search of asylum expected to increase More

South African Brewer Tackles Climate Change

Mega-brewer SAB Miller sent delegates to climate summit in Peru, says it is one of many private companies taking their own steps to fight climate change More

Indonesia Reports Increase in Citizens Joining Islamic State

Officials say more than 350 of its citizens are now in Syria or Iraq to fight with Islamic State - 50 more than last month More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Godwin from: Nigeria
October 14, 2013 12:06 PM
This generation has produced the greatest number of fools ever. And a world that is headed for destruction cannot but be fooled the more by those intrinsically foolish from birth, even if they had a stint in the company of rational humane people before, and have to pose themselves as writers and authors later during their mental obstruction.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?i
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
December 17, 2014 11:54 AM
The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?

The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Turkey's Authoritarianism Dismays Western Allies

The Turkish government has been defiant in the face of criticism at home and abroad for its raids targeting opposition media. The European Union on Monday expressed dismay after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Brussels for criticizing his government's action. Turkey's bid to be considered for EU membership has been on hold while critics accuse the NATO ally of increasingly authoritarian rule. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video US-China Year in Review: Hong Kong to Climate Change

The United States is pushing for a code of conduct to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea as it works to improve commercial ties with Beijing. VOA State Department correspondent Scott Stearns reports on a year of U.S. policy toward China from Hong Kong to climate change.
Video

Video Japanese Leader’s Election Win Raises Potential for Conflict with Neighbors

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his allies easily won a two-thirds majority in parliament Sunday, even though the country has slipped into recession under his conservative policies. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Seoul, that the prime minister’s victory will empower him to continue economic reforms but also pursue a nationalist agenda that will likely increase tensions with Japan’s neighbors.
Video

Video Nuba Mountain Families Hide in Caves to Escape Aerial Bombings

Despite ongoing peace talks between Sudan's government and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, daily aerial attacks continue in South Kordofan province’s Nuba Mountains. Adam Bailes was there and reports for VOA that government forces are targeting civilian areas, rather than military positions, with their daily bombardments.

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Soul Lounge

"Soul Lounge" host Shawna Renee catches up with soul singer and songwriter Russell Taylor to hear what he’s been up to since winning the VH1 "You Oughta Know" title in 2013. She also convinces him to share a few songs from his album "War of Hearts."