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

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Chocolate Too Bitter? Swap Sugar for Mushrooms

US food technology company develops fermentation process using mushrooms to reduce bitterness in cocoa beans, believes it will cut sugar content in candy 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.
US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israeli
X
Carolyn Presutti
July 23, 2014 1:21 AM
The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israel

The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video NASA Focuses on Earth-Like Planets

For decades, looking for life elsewhere in the universe meant listening for signals that could be from distant civilizations. But recent breakthroughs in space technology refocused some of that effort toward finding planets that may harbor life, even in its primitive form. VOA’s George Putic reports on a recent panel discussion at NASA’s headquarters, in Washington.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

The Hamilton Live

Acclaimed jazz saxophonist Tia Fuller has made a name for herself appearing with such high-profile artists as Beyonce, Esperanza Spalding, and Terri Lyne Carrington. Tia and her quartet performed music from her CD “Angelic Warrior” on our latest edition of "The Hamilton Live."