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Weekly Roundup: Quoting out of context, Colm Tóibín on writing myths and Barnes talks Flaubert

Weekly Roundup: Quoting out of context, Colm Tóibín on writing myths and Barnes talks Flaubert

Hilary Mantel, in case you have been living on a different planet, has gone from heroine to villain in a nanosecond – in some sections of the media at least – for making what seemed like an attack on the Duchess of Cambridge. That's not her style so naturally her comments about the Duchess's appearance, weight and role were part of a highly reasoned argument discussing royal women and public perception down the centuries. Her comments took up a mere four paragraphs in a forty paragraph speech (delivered for the London Review of Books) which can be read in full here. That didn't stop commentators who hadn't read the whole thing from dropping on her from a great height. She can now add another distinguished first to her list: the first woman to win two Man Booker Prizes, the first novelist to win with consecutive books, the first author to win both the Man Booker and the Costa in the same year etc … and now, the first modern novelist to be criticised by both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. Ironically, since the furore broke, sales of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies have seen a sales spike.

Sticking with the Prime Minister, well, sort of … Colm Tóibín – Man Booker shortlisted in 1999 and 2004 – has an interesting take on the writer's life and capabilities which he aired in The Guardian. When asked “What's the biggest myth about writing?” he commented: “That there's any wildness attached to it. Writing tends to be very deliberate. A novelist could probably run a military campaign with some success. They could certainly run a country.” David Cameron beware.

Even the most highfalutin authors can't escape their sentimental side. At the Hay Festival Cartagena   the 2011 Man Booker winner Julian Barnes was discussing Flaubert with Mario Vargas Llosa (a Man Booker International finalist in 2009), another long-time admirer of the great Frenchman. After much thought-provoking discussion about Flaubert's aims, his place in literature, his political engagement and so on Vargas Llosa let slip why Flaubert has such a hold on him still. It's all down to Emma Bovary: “She was a great dreamer, a great rebel, an absolutely extraordinary and admirable woman” he said, rather like an adoring schoolboy with a crush. Barnes refused to out himself as well, merely commenting drily: “I had failed to inform our moderator that Mario has been in love with Emma Bovary for 40 or 50 years.”