Speaking about his new novel Brooklyn last night at the Tenement Museum, Colm Tóibín said he hates the word timeless and complained it would have been "so clunky" to put in the book that it was 1951, even on the flap copy. Readers know the period is post-WWII and, if they must, they can calculate the exact date from Eilis and Tony seeing Singing in the Rain during her second year in America.
(I read it last weekend, bowled over by its purity and sustained power.)
As for his protagonist, Tóibín said he wanted Eilis to be "ostensibly passive," someone "who would soak in the world like blotting paper, rather than trying to control it." Succeeding in keeping almost all of the disdain out of his voice, he added, "I didn't want a 'get up and go' figure, who would arrive and 'take the city by storm.'" He had been reading a lot of Jane Austen and admired her characters' "inwardness, something that almost glowed in them" and how surprised they are when they're noticed.
Introducing Tóibín, Andrew Sean Greer was extremely funny about the similarities between their novels. Next week he goes to Italy where The Story of a Marriage
competes for the Premio Vallombrosa against books by Jhumpa Lahiri, Richard Ford, Deborah Eisenberg, Ingo Shulze, and David Albahari. (Last year Peter Cameron was a finalist for Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You.) Three days after the award ceremony, he will open the Roma International Literary Festival with a reading at the Forum.
Too bad I didn't take pictures so you could see the cut of Greer's pale gray suit, the subtle detailing on his shirt's placket, and a pair of boots that were sex itself.
New Yorkers who read should bear in the mind the series of free talks at the Tenement Museum. At the same time, please take a moment to support the museum workers who have formed a union, as yet unrecognized by the unyielding management.