Author Toibin sees novel surviving new technology


Posted at Apr 21 2010 07:09 AM | Updated as of Apr 21 2010 03:09 PM

NEW YORK – Award-winning Irish writer Colm Toibin firmly believes the novel will remain fundamentally unchanged by the Internet or other high-tech innovations, a realm in which he admits he is nearly illiterate.

Toibin, the author of such critically acclaimed novels as "Brooklyn," "The Master" and "The Blackwater Lightship," is set this week to appear on a panel to discuss "The Author in the Age of the Internet," part of the London Review of Books' 30th anniversary celebration events in New York.

Toibin is a technophobe. He writes with a fountain pen on paper and cannot figure out how to send e-mails by phone. An interview with Reuters on Tuesday was delayed as Toibin fumbled with his cell phone, repeatedly failing to answer it.

"I actually miss most calls," Toibin said apologetically over a landline from Princeton University where he teaches. "Like an awful lot of writers, I am barely literate in the things that seem to matter now."

The recent launch of Apple's iPad tablet computer and the pending release of similar devices have many in publishing experimenting with new forms of content for increasingly powerful mobile computing devices.

Toibin is aware technology is encroaching on literature, but he remains unimpressed with new gadgets such as Amazon's Kindle.

On a train to Boston, he tried out a Kindle belonging to a fellow passenger, but he did not like it. "I thought it took longer to turn the page than it would take me and ... I just didn't like that second of waiting," he said.

At a dinner party, a fellow guest admitted to never reading his work but said she could rectify that immediately.

"She took a Kindle out of her handbag and ordered one of my books in front of me," he said. "She seemed immensely happy, and thought I should be too, that she now had the book.

"But I wondered if she would read it, and I didn't think so," he said.

'Infinite choice'

Toibin, who has won several literary awards and been shortlisted for the coveted Man Booker Prize, is impressed by the way the Internet has made "an infinite choice" of books available.

But he said he believed the way novelists work -- in solitude and from the imagination -- would remain essentially unchanged.

"I am 55 and I'm not going to change ... and my readers are not going to change either," he said. "The idea that technology will change how we function would be just absurd."

But he finds after growing up gay in the rural Irish town of Enniscorthy when homosexuality was viewed as sinful and unnatural, that technology has changed gay life.

"Now if you are gay, you go online at night and realize the whole world is gay," he said. "Before the Internet, there was a lot of solitude. Now there is an awful lot of solidarity."

The Internet has changed what he writes, he added, because his themes such as gay loneliness, solitude and tragedy have been replaced by gay solidarity and enjoyment.

With gay life as one of his most common topics, "the Internet has fundamentally changed how I write about it."

Toibin has a collection of short stories due for publication in the fall in Britain and next year in the United States. He also is working on a novel set in Ireland during the 1960s economic boom after the country dropped its protectionist policies.

Toibin said there had been a lot of interest in Hollywood about making a movie from his latest novel, "Brooklyn," set in an Irish enclave in the 1950s, and that he expected to sell it to a studio in the coming weeks.