Colm Tóibín on the Literature of Grief

At The Guardian, Colm Tóibín writes about the experience of losing his father at a young age and how this became the inspiration for his new novel, Nora Webster. He also delves into the long history of literature about grief.
Novelists make things up, but the things, or the feelings surrounding them, come from the world; they have a shape like the world's shape, or the shape, indeed, of experience, including the writer's experience or the writer's pressing concerns. Thus the experience of grief for a novelist makes its way into the work in the same way as the waters from the flood may be channelled into a living stream. Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights, the books about losing her husband and her daughter, and Francisco Goldman's Say Her Name, his book about the death of his wife, use with skill and subtlety the very gift for narrative which distinguishes the authors as novelists.
The novelists have become characters in their own books. By the urgency of the tone, they make clear, however, that, in the aftermath of loss, nothing they can invent compares to it. And that, since they are writers, what happened needs to be written down so that it can be known and shared and understood, so that it can lose its incoherence. And so that they, in their powerlessness and helplessness, can at least still do this, can at least write down what it was like.
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