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.
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Algerians Vote in Presidential Election

There were few media reports of protests and clashes around the country, but so far no significant violence More

Sharks More Evolved than Previously Thought

The discovery could “profoundly affect our understanding of evolutionary history” More

Pakistan Military Asked to Protect Polio Workers

Request comes as authorities say a Taliban ban on vaccinations in 2012 and deadly attacks on anti-polio teams have prevented thousands of children from getting inoculated 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.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Border Crossings

With over five million records sold worldwide, singer-songwriter MIKA is best known for his hit single “Grace Kelly.” MIKA joins "Border Crossings" to perform live and to talk with host Larry London about his latest CD “The Origin Of Love.”