Colm Tóibín: She brought self-deprecation to a fine art, but there was always irony behind it

 

Maeve Binchy was one of those people that you were always delighted to see. The more famous she became, it seemed to me, the wittier and the more charming and ironic she became too.

About 20 years ago we were getting our make-up put on beside each other in RTÉ before a chat show. She looked at me in all sincerity and said: “Now, I have to talk to you, and I’ve been meaning to phone you.

“You see when I was in America I was interviewed and they asked me who I knew in Dublin and I mentioned you along with a lot of other people and then I realised that I didn’t really know you. And what I’d love now is to be sure that you wouldn’t contradict me, and that you wouldn’t say you didn’t know me at all the next time you went over there. I mean that would be awful, wouldn’t it? For me, it would anyway. And I know you wouldn’t do it.” She smiled warmly and knowingly, and then she got on with discussing things of greater importance with the woman who was putting on her make-up.

As I sat there gazing into the mirror, I had no idea what to say in reply to her. I felt that was part of her aim when she began to speak. I loved that. She brought self-deprecation to a fine art, but there was always irony behind it, and wit, and a sort of steely way of not ever being dull.

She had sort of put me in my place while pretending that she was doing the precise opposite. On the programme, I found that I agreed with everything she said.