Sumptous ... This deceptively slim memoir expands out into something far greater than you might expect. In what amounts to not much more than a long magazine article, he creates a sweeping, lyrical portrait of the small-town idiosyncrasies, natural landscapes and family histories in southeast Ireland on which his novels have drawn for three decades ... But fittingly, it’s precisely the details of that provincial world (the setting of so many of his novels) that Toibin conjures up superbly here.
These essays speak in the first person, but are not introspective. It is only in the opening piece, an account of his treatment for testicular cancer, that you get much self-revelation ... This essay brilliantly describes the trance states induced by his enforced dependence on pharmaceuticals, through intensive chemotherapy and steroid treatment. Here, as throughout the collection, it is the droll, melancholy elegance of the prose that guarantees the reader’s enjoyment.
Personal, political, and poetic ... If you’re anything like me, you don’t need to be sold on Tóibín’s work. If you do need some convincing, A Guest at the Feast, told with Tóibín’s signature humour, erudition, compassion, and acute observation, will do the trick.
Tóibín does something interesting with the illness memoir here: he seeks no lessons; he tries only to be good company on the page. (He succeeds) ... His eyes are always alert; the guest at the feast is always watching closely.
There is nothing flashy about these essays, no showing off. They are always interesting and intelligent, written in an admirably clear prose free of academic jargon. In short, this is journalism at its best. I learned a lot from them and am grateful for that. It’s a collection to which I will surely return.
Tóibín’s writing is what people these days inevitably describe as nuanced, a word that has become a kind of shorthand for expressing a person’s rare ability to understand – or to try to understand – the foibles of others.
A Guest at the Feast gathers recent essays that show his full range ... The title essay, 'A Guest at the Feast,' is the book’s highlight ... A Guest at the Feast is a collection that will remind readers of Tóibín’s power as a writer of more than just memorable fiction. His cleareyed, considered critiques of powerful people and vivid personal essays can make readers long for a place they’ve never seen.
Sprawling ... For non-Catholics this collection of essays is a bit dense with dogma and may be a drudge report of Church dysfunction, but to the faithful, the lapsed, and the strident anti-Catholic public this collection of essays offers a greater understanding of history and how parishioner activism has changed the Church, if only a scintilla.
Conventionally, we claim that good readers make good writers. Conversely, good writers with well-stocked minds can make especially good - intense, intricate, involved - readers. Like Toibin, such writers can look subtly at nuances and inflections, then see through pretence or verbiage. To borrow a Toibin phrase, their best commentary might amount to 'placing a halo around ordinary speech.'
...quality of candor, insight and frequent wit that he displays in these essays and journalism ... Tóibín’s account of his battle with testicular cancer that spread to a lymph node and one lung is both revealing and laced with dark humor ... [an] erudite and consistently stimulating collection.