Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Guest at the Feast

Colm Tóibín's latest book, A Guest at the Feast: a memoir, is part of a new venture from the most famous of all paperback publishers, called Penguin Shorts. These books are only available in e-form, with others by authors such as Helen Dunmore and Anita Brookner, and cost £1.99 sterling. E-readers such as the Kindle make this kind of publishing both possible and promising. On the iTunes model, it's easy and tempting to download a short book for a modest cost.

Certainly Tóibín's contribution is a very attractive one. The richness of the material makes it feel like a much longer book than it would no doubt seem in paper form. Tóibín ranges over his childhood in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, with great skill and affection. There are fine passageson his mother and her hunger for literature, on the memorable arrival of the Fleadh Cheoil to Enniscorthy in 1967 (the night before the author's father was hit by a fatal stroke), on discovering Dublin as a university student, on the last sad days of the composer Frederick May, and on Tóibín's peripheral brush with the child abuse scandals of the Roman Catholic Church. About all these he writes with delicacy and sympathy. His prose seems a little loosened up from some of his fiction, and far less depressing than it can be there.

As he writes, "All of us have a landscape of the soul, places whose contours and resonances are etched into us and haunt us. If we ever became ghosts, these are the places to which we would return."  His returnings in this e-text make it well worth the modest outlay.

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