McCrum reckons Brooklyn gets its 'incredible narrative charge' from its author's immersion in 19th-century fiction.
Toibin himself says: 'It's all about keeping the line clear. Look at Austin. In her novels you get a dance followed by an encounter, followed by a letter, then a period of solitude. No flashbacks and no backstory. Let's have no more backstory. Can we please have no more "I'd like to know more about..."?'
Uh oh. I wrote the first draft of my novel, By the Book, in that direct line way and I didn't feel it worked. In this draft, I've tossed out the first five chapters and now I'm trying to reintroduce a lot of the deleted stuff by way of flashback. My intention was that backstory would be woven into the structure of the book.
I wanted to reveal the past gradually as I pushed the action of the present along. Now I'm not so sure.
I'm going to persevere with this version for a while and see what it looks like. Where the book starts now is the beginning of a change in my heroine's life. I like the idea of jumping in there, seeing her for the first time as this person on the cusp of change, and learning more about her background as she reveals it and as she moves forward in her new life .
But Toibin's words have made me think about what I'm doing, and that's not a bad thing. I'll bear them in mind as I work.