The 2022 Rathbones Folio Prize awarded at the British Library

Acclaimed, bestselling Irish novelist Colm Tóibín was tonight awarded the 2022 Rathbones Folio Prize for his novel The Magician, a haunting, intimate portrait of the exiled German Nobel winner Thomas Mann.

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22 March 2022

This is the first time Tóibín wins the £30,000 prize, following his previous shortlisting in 2015, for the novel Nora Webster.

The Magician traces the life of author, essayist, philanthropist and social critic Thomas Mann, one of the most acclaimed – and contradictory – figures in continental European literature. In his epic fictionalised biography of Mann, Tóibín masterfully charts the turbulent story of the first half of the 20th century.

It is the second time the Irish writer has used fiction to get into the mind of a novelist, following The Master, on Henry James in 2004.

Tóibín was four chapters into writing the book when he was diagnosed with cancer. Six months of heavy-duty chemotherapy followed. “I knew that if the cancer came back, the chances of writing the book were zero,” he told the Rathbones Folio Prize in an interview. “Once I could really start working again, I worked really hard and really fast.” He needed to get The Magician finished, he said. “Then I could worry about the health stuff. Anyway, I finished it.” (The cancer has not returned.)

After much discussion and debate, the judges, Tessa Hadley, William Atkins and Rachel Long chose The Magician from an incredibly strong and diverse shortlist, which featured novels, poetry and non-fiction from internationally renowned talent from across the UK, Ireland and South Africa, including Booker Prize winner The Promise by Damon Galgut.

The judges said: ‘Choosing one winner from the eight titles shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize found us pulled in so many different directions by these extraordinary books, which we lived with and loved and read and read again. We sat around a table for several hours picking out lines and passages, taking in the very different worlds of each book and arguing passionately for every one of them. And then gradually it became clear – and was a surprise to all of us – that we’d each arrived at the same decision. Colm Tóibín’s The Magician is such a capacious, generous, ambitious novel, taking in a great sweep of 20th century history, yet rooted in the intimate detail of one man’s private life.’

After reading 80 books for this prize, judge Rachel Long said that The Magician made her ‘fall in love with reading all over again’.

Chair of the judges Tessa Hadley made the announcement as part of tonight’s prize ceremony, which was hosted at the British Library. The Rathbones Folio Prize is known as the writer’s prize as it is the only award in which all the books considered for the prize are selected and judged by an academy of peers and is also the only prize to consider all works of literature, regardless of form.

Bestselling novelist Tóibín, who is based in Ireland, spoke of his interest in Mann being sparked as a teenager in a special writing masterclass hosted by events producers 5x15 for the shortlisted authors, chaired by James Naughtie. The digital livestream took place on Wednesday 9th March,and was one of three events in collaboration with 5x15 featuring seven of the eight shortlisted authors. On Wednesday 9th March, Tóibín appeared with fellow shortlist author Philip Hoare and shared how Mann’s story had stuck with him and prompted him to explore his world and the duality of his personal and private life in more detail. Speaking during the masterclass, Tóibín said he was interested in ‘the difference between the figure at the breakfast table and in the study’ and had ‘a sense of [Mann] as someone who was uneasy in the world.’

Tóibín has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize three times, won the Costa Novel Award (for Brooklyn), the Impac Award and the David Cohen Prize for Literature in 2021. In 2011 he was awarded the Irish PEN Award for contribution to Irish Literature. This is his first Rathbones Folio Prize, following his previous shortlisting in 2015. He is the author of ten novels including The Master, Brooklyn, The Testament of Mary, Nora Webster and, House of Names, and has also published two collections of stories and many works of non-fiction. Earlier this year, he was named as the new laureate for Irish fiction, taking over from Sebastian Barry. He is also Chancellor of the University of Liverpool, UK, and Mellon Professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia, New York. Born in Enniscorthy, he currently lives between Dublin and Los Angeles.

Paul Stockton, CEO of Rathbones, said: “Rathbones is proud to sponsor a prize that consistently brings us the best of literature and storytelling being written today. We send our congratulations to Colm Tóibín, whose novel The Magician, is an outstanding reflection of ahigh quality talent of writing across the globe, that was also echoed in the impressive shortlist. We are delighted that the Rathbones Folio Prize plays such a significant role in nurturing and supporting such remarkable talent, and are thrilled to continue supporting the prize’s commitment to enriching people’s lives through literature.”

Tóibín was shortlisted alongside Natasha Brown (Assembly), Damon Galgut (The Promise), Selima Hill (Men Who Feed Pigeons), Philip Hoare (Albert and the Whale), Claire Keegan (Small Things Like These), Gwendoline Riley (My Phantoms), and Sunjeev Sahota (China Room).

In winning, he joins Carmen Maria Machado (2021), Valeria Luiselli (2020), Raymond Antrobus (2019), Richard Lloyd Parry (2018), Hisham Matar (2017), Akhil Sharma (2015) and George Saunders (2014) as previous winners of the prize – the only one governed by an international academy of distinguished writers and critics, the Folio Academy.

The Rathbones Folio Prize is borderless and open to all genres – fiction, non-fiction, and poetry – which means it reflects a greater diversity and variety of voices present in our literary culture and society as a whole.

The Rathbones Folio Prize is the flagship of the Literature / Folio Prize Foundation, which also includes the Rathbones Folio Prize Mentorships for aspiring young writers and Rathbones Folio Prize Sessions at literary festivals across the UK.

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