Will it be third-time lucky for Tóibín?

Irish writer makes Man Booker shortlist again as McCann and Ryan lose out

Author Colm Toibin has been shortlisted for the Man Booker prize for the third time.  Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Author Colm Toibin has been shortlisted for the Man Booker prize for the third time. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times


Will it be a case of third-time lucky for Irish writer Colm Tóibín?

The Enniscorthy native was one of six writers to make this year’s Man Booker shortlist after fellow Irish novelists Colum McCann (TransAtlantic) and Donal Ryan (The Spinning Heart) failed to make the final cut.

It’s the third time Tóibín has been shortlisted for the prestigious prize, having made the final six in 1999 with The Blackwater Lightship, and again in 2004 with The Master.

His 112-page novella, The Testament of Mary, concerns the life of Mary, mother of Jesus, in her old age.

Now living in exile and fear, she attempts to piece together the events that led to her son’s brutal death.

She does not believe that her son was the son of God, is sceptical of the writers of the gospels, and wishes to liberate his story and her grief from the myth that encrusts it.

On one level, a rationalist explanation of the Jesus story, on another, a tale of a mother’s overpowering grief.

In his review, acclaimed novelist Edmund White described it as a “severe reimagining of an old woman’s pain as she is supervised by cold zealots who want her to concur with their account.”

Judges said the book was a “beautifully crafted, passionate story that most people think they already know”, which the author “turns into something wonderfully fresh and strange”.

The novel, which was adapted as a stage play on Broadway earlier this year, has been installed as second favourite to scoop the £50,000 (€59,000) prize behind Jim Crace’s Harvest.

Crace’s novel dramatises the threat to an English village and its way of life posed by a trio of mysterious strangers which set up camp on its border.

The British author, at 67 - the oldest author on the list, has appeared on the shortlist before, in 1997 for Quarantine.

The other short-listed authors are NoViolet Bulawayo (We Need New Names), Eleanor Catton (The Luminaries), Jhumpa Lahiri (The Lowland) and Ruth Ozeki (A Tale for the Time Being).

The chair of the judges, writer Robert Macfarlane, said all the books on the “exceptionally varied and international shortlist” managed to “extend the power and possibility of form”.

He added: “These novels are all about the strange ways in which people are brought together and the painful ways in which they are held apart.”

Announcing the books at a press conference in central London, he said: “It is a shortlist that shows the English language novel to be a form of world literature. It crosses continents, joins countries and spans centuries.”

He said the judging process remained “peaceful and that the carpet remained unbloodied” and there were no “walk-outs or punch-ups”.

The winning novel will be announced at a ceremony in London on October 15th.

Previous Irish Booker winners include Anne Enright for The Gathering (2007); John Banville for The Sea (2005); and Roddy Doyle for Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha (1993).

2013 Shortlist

We Need New Names - NoViolet Bulawayo (Chatto & Windus)

The Luminaries - Eleanor Catton (Granta)

Harvest - Jim Crace (Picador)

The Lowland - Jhumpa Lahiri (Bloomsbury)

A Tale for the Time Being - Ruth Ozeki (Canongate)

The Testament of Mary - Colm Tóibín (Viking)