Colm Tóibín on enabling the reader to "enter the spirit" of Eilis in his novel 'Brooklyn'

Colm Tóibín seems to me like a writer at the top of his game, with every book in the last decade or so -- The Testament of Mary, Nora Webster, The Empty Family, and Brooklyn, being released this week as a film -- a real stunner.

He dismissed that idea with a laugh in today's interview in The Washington Post, timed to coincide the film adaptation starring Saoirse Ronan.

"You can say that," he told me, "but I’ll have to say to you: Those sentences are written one by one."

I asked him about how he creates the quiet intensity of novels such as Brooklyn, in a segment that we didn't have space for in The Post.

Brooklyn, while suspenseful and a page turner, is also a very quiet book, too. How do you manage that?

"I suppose I found a style for the book very early on which were pretty simple sentences, and I was also interested in being in her mind all the time, but not having her reflecting on herself. Merely allowing her to notice a great deal. So she has a real intelligence in the way she notices, sees things, looks, misses nothing, but I don’t give her huge powers of analysis. She doesn’t tend to analyse things as much as notice them. And I moved very carefully with that, so it looks as if you’re moving in on a surface, but what you’re doing is you’re entering as the reader into her spirit, into her mind or her imagination, and almost sort of becoming her. Therefore, if you give her a dilemma – it seems at first as if it’s going to be very simple, that her life in exile will comes right very quickly, but once you set things wrong for her and you give her a dilemma, the reader comes very close to that dilemma because of the way I’ve tried to keep the reader very close in to her.

"For example, if you write in the first person singular, you have this voice, and the reader feels distant. If you her constantly analysing and going over things that have happened, you have the reader thinking, well that’s who she is, I’m not that. But if you have her noticing and seeing only, and you get to know her via how her eyes work, and what she sees, then the reader can get very close in, and start to see, too. That’s would be the theory of it."

I think it's more than a theory, at least when Colm Tóibín does it.

The full interview ran on The Post Web site today.

Erica Jong on 'Fifty Shades':
Cinderella With Bondage

The author of the 1973 bestselling book, Fear of Flying, famous for the concept of the "zipless fuck," a no-strings-attached sexual encounter that its protagonist, Isadora Wing, fantasizes about, should know a thing or two about sexy novels.

And in my recent Washington Post interview with Jong about her latest novel, Fear of Dying, I was somewhat delighted to discover she is not a fan of Fifty Shades.

Here was a fuller response to my question than I included in The Post.

Why do you think Fifty Shades of Gray has been such a phenomenon?

I have no idea. It’s a Cinderella story. It’s an old-fashioned story. Many young people haven’t read The Story of O, Justine and Juliet, all the pornographic books. The Story of O is written like Shakespeare compared to Fifty Shades. I think the reputation of the book sells it, rather than the book itself.

People kept asking me about it, so I had to read it. It has nothing to do with anything I wrote, ever. It’s a Cinderella tale. A man who’s much wealthier gives a young woman who’s 18 all kinds of goodies. She can’t afford a computer, he buys her one. She can’t afford a car, he buys her one. In return, she signs a contract to be submissive. She’s a virgin – very realistic for 2015 (that’s irony by the way). He’s a rich billionaire at 25. Very few people become billionaires at 25 but forget that. She’s able to get the Prince because she’s willing to be submissive. He brings her to orgasm, and of course, she being a virgin, he’s the greatest lover she ever had. That’s the story. It’s a retelling of the Cinderella story, with bondage. It is not even copyedited. Shocking to me who is meticulous with publishers. This book, she has an orgasm and she says, “Holy Cow!” or “Holy Shit!” And one on page she’ll say “Holy Cow” or “Holy Shit” five or six times. It seems to me that there has never been a woman in the history of the world who said “Holy Shit” when she came. Also, the book is so poorly edited – it’s not edited at all – that’s it’s an embarrassment to the printing press. It isn’t even spell-checked! I rest my case.