Colm Tóibín is Irene and Sidney B. Silverman Professor of the Humanities at Columbia. His new novel, House of Names, will be published in May. (May 2017)


Shadows & Ghosts

J. M. Coetzee, the Netherlands, 2005

The Schooldays of Jesus

by J.M. Coetzee
For any novelist, the relationship between the past and the present offers interesting choices. Although working this out often requires cunning and guile, sometimes the simplest strategy, such as a pause in the narrative for pure, unadulterated backstory, is the most effective. At the opening of Henry James’s The Portrait …

The Talented, Trapped Spenders

Stephen Spender, New York Review editor Robert Silvers, Elizabeth Hardwick, and Natasha Spender, New York City, 1980s

A House in St John’s Wood: In Search of My Parents

by Matthew Spender

Worlds Apart: A Memoir

by David Plante
In the mid-1980s an Irish radio program asked me to go to Sligo in the west of Ireland, to the W.B. Yeats Summer School, to interview the poet Stephen Spender, who was a guest at the school. Since the radio program centered on current affairs more than literary matters, I …

She Played Hard with Happiness

The Complete Stories

by Clarice Lispector, translated from the Portuguese by Katrina Dodson, edited and with an introduction by Benjamin Moser
In her mixture of nonchalance, inscrutability, wit, and knowing simplicity, in her use of tones that are whimsical and subtle, in the stories that are filled with abstractions, Clarice Lispector has perhaps more in common with some Brazilian visual artists of her generation than she does with any writers.

Late Francis Bacon: Spirit & Substance

Francis Bacon: Three Studies for Self-Portrait, 1976; oil on canvas, in three parts, each 14 x 12 inches
In his book On Late Style, published after his death, the critic Edward Said ponders the aura surrounding work produced by artists in the last years of their lives. He asks: “Does one grow wiser with age, and are there unique qualities of perception and form that artists acquire as …


Gawking at Quixote

François de Poilly the Younger after Charles Coypel: Don Quixote Mistakes Puppets for Moors and Believes He Is Rescuing Two Runaway Lovers, 1723 (click images to enlarge)

The artist Charles Coypel’s images of Don Quixote are so dramatic in their visual scope and use of space and color and contrast that they must have been a gift to both engravers and tapestry-makers. As much as Cervantes, he could work wonders with chance, mayhem, indignity, happenstance, and misadventure, and there is a sense of him as being a genuine kindred spirit with the novelist.

Goya: Order and Disorder

Francisco Goya: Self-Portrait While Painting, circa 1795

“There are two ways, perhaps, of looking at Francisco Goya,” writes Colm Tóibín in the Review’s December 18, 2014 issue. In the first version, Goya, who was born near Zaragoza in 1746 and died in exile in France in 1828, “was almost innocent, a serious and ambitious artist interested in mortality and beauty, but also playful and mischievous, until politics and history darkened his imagination…. In the second version, it is as though a war was going on within Goya’s psyche from the very start…. His imagination was ripe for horror.” Here we present a series of prints and paintings from the show under review—the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston’s “Goya: Order and Disorder,” now closed—along with commentary on the images drawn from Tóibín’s piece.

The Sweet Troubles of Proust

Proust’s handwriting is bad; it is the handwriting of a novelist rather than a dandy, and visitors to the Morgan Library who can read French will have much fun making out the words and the many untidy emendations on the pages of the manuscript. In a letter to a publisher, as Proust seeks to explain what his novel is about, one word, however, stands alone and is written with a rare exactitude. In a letter to Alfred Vallette, editor of Le Mecure de France, in 1909 Proust described his work-in-progress: it “is a genuine novel and an indecent one in places. One of the principal characters is a homosexual.”

Still Drama: Marina at MoMA

Marina Abramović performing The Artist Is Present at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2010

At ten o’clock on a recent weekday morning, when the crowds were let in the door and up the stairs to the big hall on the second floor of MoMA, Marina Abramović was already seated in the center of a space that had been cordoned off by lines on the floor, strong lights making it seem like a movie set. She was wearing an immensely dramatic flowing red dress. Her black hair was in a single plait which folded around her left shoulder. She had her back to the stairs. She would not move from her own chair, not once, not even to eat or go to the bathroom, while the museum stayed open.