Colm Tóibín: Books that changed my life

Colm Tóibín, the author of several award-winning novels, including Brooklyn and The Master, talks to us about the books that influenced his life and work. 

The Sun Also Rises

by Ernest Hemingway

Before university I worked in a Dublin bar and, whenever I wasn’t busy, I read this book. I was gripped by the charmed lives of the characters, their sexual shenanigans and their travels in Spain. The idea that the night was a time for pleasure intrigued me, and it had never occurred to me that food and the way the table was set mattered and, more importantly, was something to delight in. Straight after university I left Ireland to live in Spain.


Go Tell It on the Mountain

by James Baldwin

This semi-autobiographical novel tells the story of John Grimes and his very religious Pentecostal upbringing in 1930s Harlem. It was the first book I read where I thought, I understand what the author is talking about. I was a white Irish Catholic but the book showed me that I wasn’t confined by my own experience—religion could be something both dutiful and liberating. Later I came to see that Catholicism wasn’t for me, but the book showed me that within the constrictions of faith there are other truths to be celebrated.


A Portrait of a Lady

by Henry James 

It wasn’t until I was about halfway through this classic novel that I realised it was about being entrapped—and I was suddenly surprised and fascinated by the darkness within the pages. Twenty years later I wrote The Master, evoking a time in Henry James’ life and work without mimicking or parodying—but by trying to capture his inner life.


Colm Tóibín's new book, House of Names, is published by Viking  

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