Irish author Colm Tóibín wins Rathbones Folio Award for The Magician | Rathbones Folio Prize

Irish novelist Colm Tóibín has won the £ 30,000 Rathbones Folio Award for The Magician, a fictional biography of the author Thomas Mann. It follows the life of the German Nobel laureate, whose works include Death in Venice and the Magic Mountain, against the background of Europe’s unrest in the first half of the 20th century.

Like his 2004 novel about Henry James, the Master, this book uses fiction to imagine an author’s mind from the past. Guardian reviewer Lucy Hughes-Hallett called it “an enormously ambitious book in which the intimate and the significant are exquisitely balanced”.

A statement from this year’s judges, Tessa Hadley, William Atkins and Rachel Long, called The Magician “a spacious, generous, ambitious novel that takes a great insight into 20th century history, yet rooted in the intimate details of a man. privacy ”.

Long added that after reading 80 books during the judging process, Tóibín’s novel made her “fall in love with reading again”.

The Magician of Colm Tóibín.
The Magician of Colm Tóibín. Photo: Viking / PA

Tóibín had written four chapters of The Magician when he was diagnosed with cancer in 2018. Six months of chemotherapy followed. “I knew that if the cancer came back, the chances of writing the book were zero,” he said. “When I was first able to start working again, I worked really hard and really fast.”

Only when the novel was finished did he want to worry about his health, he decided. “At least I did it,” he said. The cancer has not returned.

The Rathbones Folio Award was created after judges at the 2011 Man Booker Award attracted controversy for praising books with “readability” that “zips along.” The new award would aim for, said literary agent Andrew Kidd, who came up with the idea of ​​bringing literary gems to as wide a public as possible. Unlike Booker, it considers non-fiction and poetry as well as fiction, and all the books considered for the prize are selected by an academy of peers, with judges selected from that academy. Past winners include George Saunders for short stories, Tenth of December, and Raymond Antrobus for his debut poetry collection The Perseverance. Last year’s winner was Carmen Maria Machado for her memoir In the Dream House.

Tóibín has been nominated for the award once before, and for the Booker three times. Winning the Rathbones Folio for The Magician feels “important and gratifying,” he said.

“It was a difficult book to write. Investigating it took 15 years, but the task was to make it read like the story of a family in a turbulent time rather than a piece of historical research. “

After rising to the top of a shortlist that included Booker winner The Promise by Damon Galgut, Tóibín said it was “a surprise” to win. He has no idea yet what he will do with the prize money, and is currently busy teaching at New York Columbia University. In May, he plans to continue work on a new book that is a “kind of sequel to [his much-loved 2009 novel] Brooklyn ”.

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