Colm Toibin is an Irish author. He was here in Chennai in Jan this year gracing the Hindu Lit fest. He grabbed my attention during the fest with his gentle demeanor and with the warmth in the coversation that Amit Chaudry seemed to exude when he was particularly addressing Colm Toibin. He further won my attention when A.R. Venkatachalapathy mentioned that Colm Toibin was one author he was eagerly looking forward to in this festival, as he had beat his faourite author David Lodge to write a book on the American writer Henry James.
( Colm Toibin's The Master is based on the final years in the life of Henry James when his life takes a big turn and makes him a big success. It is unfortunate that none of branches of BC library in India are holding a copy of this book. David Lodge's 'Author Author' is available in Chennai, though i have not had the leisure for that bulky volume yet. Now that i have had a measure of Colm Toibin's writing i am eager to get my hands on David Lodge's writings)
While the enthusiasm of the lit fest was still lingering in me, i managed to read Colm Toibin's Testament of Mary. I picked it up for it looked sleek and i thought it would be a light read. The book was a narrative of events around the crucifixion of Jesus from the point of view of Mary. It was a narrative that impressed with tenderness of the motherly love of Mary for Jesus. The book did not give me an oppurtunity to explore Toibin's craft, it rather overwhelmed with its tenderness.
So i was all set and glad when a reading club i was part of chose the novel, 'Brooklyn' for this month's reading.
I liked Brooklyn and gave me a good measure of Toibin's craft. Toibin writes with a cool understated style. The book was a breezy read for me and manged to finish it in two sittings. The book has four parts, a couple playing in Enniscorthy, Ireland and a couple in Brooklyn, not in a strict sense though.
The first two parts talk about a girl finding a good job and moving out of home to the new job and a new country. It occurred to me that not much was happening and i was not sure where the story was headed, the Author was not giving any clues either of how the story was headed.
And then when you are half way through, a man comes into the girl's life. Now you get a fair idea of the things that were going to come up, and story proceeds along predictable lines. But then the author gives the story two different twists, one that he trains the reader for and another that jolts the reader. The final twist in the story leaves the reader want to go back and read the novel in the reverse to understand what had caused the events to this turn and if the author had hinted on it as he was building up for this turn. And then the reader has to stay happy with the few clues the author has left for him, here and there, and that he had overlooked in his anticipation of a particular kind of climax.
All along the author leaves you subtle clues that you only tend to sum up when we look back. For instance, when Jim Farrell appears first in the novel, you some how get the impression he is going to come back in the girl's life. And when the mother keeps insisting on the girl trying her sister's clothes, the girl refuses and abhors being treated ad the ghost of her sister.
For most of the book the girl comes across as a devout and a very Christian girl and for a brief interlude she appears to move from that Christian image( her insistence on serving at the Father's parish on Christmas, her fussiness about she her boy friend having to make the confession, etc.) and transform into a liberated and dreamy soul aspiring and daring to explore. Finally, i think she chooses to live by her faith.
The book revels in the shock of the jolt it leaves in the reader with its final twist and in the reader's curiosity to go back and savor the finer aspects of the novel so as to take the edginess of the shock away. i strongly believe this feature was crafted in to the novel by the author and absolutely loved his craft for achieving it spectacularly.
i loved certain portions for their beautiful drama. For instance, To see the young girl determined to build her life brick by brick and mother luck shining on her in more than one ways reminds one of a bright sunshine and glorious days of life. it left me wishing one had that kind of composure and luck while building ones young adult life. given a chance to relive a young adulthood, that is the kind of life i would aspire for.