For the vast majority, August is a time when the capital city is packed with the ubiquitous glance of the performer stepping onto stage, circumnavigating their exorbitant venue, hoping to see the enthusiastic face of an American tourist, instead of the desolate sadness of an empty row of seats. However, for others, such as esteemed Irish writer Colm Toibin – novelist, short-story writer, essayist, playwright, journalist, critic and poet – perambulating into the main theatre at this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival will require nothing more than a tilt of the head, and a jovial wave of the hand: acknowledging yet another prematurely sold-out event.
Mr Toibin might well be the master of the nuance, but there’s certainly nothing subtle about his list of literary achievements. Perpetually present on the Booker Prize short-list, his writing is continuously described as taut, lyrical and evocative. It’s not just a coincidence there’s always an indignant melee of people, pushing and shoving – both literarily and technologically – hoping to be lucky enough to get a ticket for his event.
In his Costa Award winning novel Brooklyn, Colm’s portrait of the young Eilis Lacey is so compelling, so moving, that her eventual choice between duty and love leaves you hanging on an emotional precipice, praying and hoping the denouement will be auspicious for her future.
Finding the balance between a gripping narrative and a deftly political edge, is something he seems to achieve with consummate ease. This is mainly evident in his book The Master – a gripping story about the writer Henry James, and The Testament of Mary – a heart-wrenching and vivid exploration about a mother’s mourning.
Consistency is probably the most apposite word to use when describing his novels. He continues to produce work of such a high standard that one wonders if he’s plagiarising from a higher power, some literary god who keeps polluting his neurons with brilliance again and again and again…
Billed as The Irish Writer’s Finest Novel To Date, on the subject of which he was quoted as saying “it was so close to me, that it took more than a decade to finish”, his event this year is about his latest novel – Nora Webster (short-listed for the Costa Novel Award) where the eponymous Nora is so richly detailed, you can’t help but feel like you are living in her world. The effective nature of his laconic prose, how it absorbs you into the effectiveness of the trivial and the power of the unspoken, is something no other writer can achieve with such accuracy, such poignancy. On closing the book, I was still so lost in the melody, the journey of Nora Webster, that there seemed to be an evident susurration inviting me back in, beseeching me to come back.
Discussing the creation of Nora with acclaimed writer and biographer Hermione Lee, I’ve no doubt this event will be just as edifying, enjoyable, and thought-provoking as in past years, allowing for the verbosity and loquaciousness to continue long into the afternoon – murmuring praise for a man whose literary career has sparkled with nothing but genius.