Colm Toibin’s The Magician and the right to write

I’ve just finished reading Colm Toibin’s The Magician. It’s an epic that covers most of his life. Its rich layers cover politics, sexuality, history and culture and it has a certain weight to it because of that but also because you’re in such good hands with Toibin.

In the midst of international politics and repressed sexuality though, all I could think about was the practical aspects of his writing life and how enabled he was by those around him, especially his wife Katia and daughter Erika.

Every day of his adult life, he spent the four hours before lunch writing. He always had his own study and children and visitors were warned not to disturb him, or even make too much noise in the house. He had six kids.

In the afternoon he napped and read and thought. Can you imagine??!!!

He had money, which makes a difference, but he’d also decided that he was a writer early on and expected time and silence as part of that.

I wonder how much of his ideas about having a right to write and a right to make demands about it was about gender and how much about the culture of the time and his social status?

I’ve always known that I wanted to be a writer but still struggle with the idea of having a right to write. Do I dare take time for this?  There’s ‘Who am I to have something to say?’ mixed in with ‘Who am I to write when there are other obligations in the mix?’.

It was also interesting to read the gestation of his ideas and how they would build to become short fiction and novels. It all came from his life, the families he was part of, the holidays he took and the people he watched.

No one ever belittles his writing because of this. They never say his books are just glorified diaries or dismiss the content as domestic. It’s always intuited as something bigger than what it is. He has conflicting desires about men and boys and basically represses his sexuality. Even when he writes with desire and detail about young men, which definitely wasn’t socially acceptable, instead of interpreting it as his voice and his desire it’s elevated and thought of as metaphor or a clever device.

Of course it makes me think, about what woman would ever have her family observations lauded as high literature like he did or what woman would demand silence and have her husband and son shushing company and making diary arrangements so that she could get on with her writing. Every day. For at least four undisturbed hours. And then allow some napping and thinking time on top of that.

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