Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2023 by LitHub!
From one of the most engaging and brilliant writers of our time comes a collection of essays about growing up in Ireland during radical change; about cancer, priests, popes, homosexuality, and literature.
“IT ALL STARTED WITH MY BALLS.” So begins Colm Tóibín’s fabulously compelling essay, laced with humor, about his diagnosis and treatment for cancer. Tóibín survives, but he has entered, as he says, “the age of one ball.” The second essay in this seductive collection is a memoir about growing up in the 1950s and ’60s in the small town of Enniscorthy in County Wexford, the setting for many of Tóibín’s novels and stories, including Brooklyn, The Blackwater Lightship and Nora Webster. Tóibín describes his education by priests, several of whom were condemned years later for abuse. He writes about Irish history and literature, and about the long, tragic journey toward legal and social acceptance of homosexuality.
In Part Two, Tóibín profiles three complex and vexing popes—John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis. And in Part Three, he writes about a trio of authors who reckon with religion in their fiction. The final essay, “Alone in Venice,” is a gorgeous account of Toibin’s journey, at the height of the pandemic, to the beloved city where he has set some of his most dazzling scenes. The streets, canals, churches and museums were empty. He had them to himself, an experience both haunting and exhilarating.
A Guest at the Feast is both an intimate encounter with a supremely creative artist and a glorious celebration of writing.
Table of Contents
Cancer: My Part in Its Downfall
A Guest at the Feast
A Brush with the Law
The Paradoxical Pope
Among the Flutterers
The Bergoglio Smile: Pope Francis
The Ferns Report
Putting Religion in Its Place: Marilynne Robinson
Issues of Truth and Invention: Francis Stuart
Snail Slow: John McGahern
Alone in Venice
Novelist Tóibín (The Magician) gathers 11 essays that showcase his versatility in this erudite collection of previously published material. In "Cancer: My Part in Its Downfall," Tóibín reflects on his testicular cancer and the trials of chemotherapy: "the effect of the drug darkened the mind and filled it with something hard and severe and relentless. It was like pain or a sort of anguish, but those words don't really cover it." "A Brush with the Law" recalls Tóibín's earlier career as a magazine editor reporting on the Irish Supreme Court, while "The Paradoxical Pope" profiles John Paul II: "It is not simply the aura of his office that draws people to him but the mixture of his steely strength and his humanity. Also, he was once an actor, and knows about the theater." In "The Ferns Report," Tóibín poignantly examines an account of sexual abuse that occurred in the diocese where he grew up. The book closes with essays on literature, including pieces on novelists John McGahern and Marilynne Robinson. Of the latter, Tóibín writes, "With her wide reading and her well-stocked mind, Robinson is also deeply engaged with matters both philosophical and political"; this collection places him in that same class. Tóibín's fans will relish these sharp reflections.