cover image A Guest at the Feast: Essays

A Guest at the Feast: Essays

Colm Tóibín. Scribner, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4767-8520-2

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. (Jan.)