Irish novelist Colm Tóibín has won the Rathbones Folio Award for his ‘haunting’ novel The magician (Viking), which was primarily written after the author’s cancer diagnosis.
The president of the jury, Tessa Hadley, made the announcement as part of the awards ceremony, which was held on March 22 at the British Library.
It was the first time that Tóibín had won the £30,000 prize. He was selected in 2015 for his novel Nora Webster (Penguin).
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.
Tóibín was four chapters away from writing the book when he was diagnosed with cancer. Six months of intensive chemotherapy followed. He told the Rathbones Folio Prize in an interview, “I knew if the cancer came back the chances of writing the book were zero. Once I was able to really start working again, I worked very hard and very fast. Anyway, I finished it.
The judges said: “Choosing a winner from the eight shortlisted titles took us in so many different directions through these extraordinary books, which we have lived and loved and read and re-read. We sat around a table for several hours choosing lines and passages, understanding the very different worlds of each book and passionately defending each of them.
“And then, little by little, it became clear – and it was a surprise to all of us – that we had all come to the same decision. At Colm Toibin The magician is such a voluminous, generous and ambitious novel, embracing much of 20th century history, but grounded in the intimate details of one man’s private life.
The Judges, author of free love (Cape Jonathan) Tessa Hadley; William Atkins, whose first book, The land (Faber & Faber), was shortlisted for the Wainwright Prize; and Rachel Long, poet and founder of Octavia Poetry Collective for Women of Color, chose The magician from a shortlist that included the Booker Prize winner The promise by Damon Galgut (Chatto & Windus).
Natasha Brown was also shortlisted for her debut, Assembly (Hamish Hamilton), Selima hill for Men who feed the pigeons (Bloodaxe Books), Philippe Hoare for Albert and the whale (Fourth power), Claire Kegan for Little things like these (Faber & Faber), Gwendoline Riley with my ghosts (Granta), and Sunjeev Sahota China Room (Harville Secker).
Previous winners of the award, governed by the Folio Academy, include Carmen Maria Machado in 2021, Valeria Luiselli in 2020, and Raymond Antrobus in 2019.