Colm Tóibín on putting words into the mouth of Mary

You’d wonder where Colm Tóibín gets the time. His middle name could be Ubiquitous; he possibly took Prolific for Confirmation.

Speaking of which (dazzling segues are a personal speciality of mine) it’s religion that prompts his latest novel, The Testament of Mary, which is due out on bookshelves real and virtual on November 13th and has already been the subject of some advanced gossip of the “major prizes” variety.

In between working on novels, short stories, essays, literary critiques, creative writing workshops and a lot more besides, Tóibín pops up with incredible regularity on the airwaves and he checked in with the BBC’s equivalent, The Front Row, the other night.

Here’s what he had to say about finding a tone of voice for history’s most famous mother:

I had to find a language for her. I couldn’t give her a mere domestic language of the ordinary day. I had to find a very heightened and stilted tone for her so that she wouldn’t speak like someone you meet on the street.

Tóibín also suggested that a continent-wide cultural freedom gave him the leeway to approach a subject as potentially controversial as a first-person narrative from the point of view of the Mother of God:

Being Irish, I’m very pro-European. I believe that Europe is not merely an economy as it’s being reduced to at the moment, but it’s a culture, and that one of the absolute tenets of that culture is the freedom of writers to imagine and publish.

I’m not so sure. A European artistic freedom hasn’t exactly been apparent for British Muslim novelists or Danish political cartoonists.

Listen to the full interview on the BBC’s Front Row page.

(P.S. Maybe I’m easily entertained but given all that talk of religions and freedoms I thought it was interesting that spellchecker’s suggested replacement for “Tóibín” is “Taliban”)

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