Saturday, December 26, 2009

Away Down Outh in Ixie

From Irish novelist Colm Toibin, author of The South, in Robin Robertson, ed., Mortification: Writers' Stories of Their Public Shame (NY: HarperCollins, 2004), pp. 120-121—

[In the 1990, Toibin was interviewed about his prize-winning novel on a television show. A prior guest that day on the same program was American writer Norman Mailer, who, in the process of departing, paused in the studio and looked closely at the cover of Toibin's book:]

"The Outh," he [Mailer] said approvingly, touching the jacket of the book.

"No," [Toibin recalled] I said almost breathlessly, "The South."

He seemed puzzled. We both looked down at the jacket.

The graphic designer had made a beautiful S in a different color and typeface to the "O-u-t-h," so that the last four letters were perfectly clear against a blue background, but the S was not so clear. I traced my figure along the S to show him it was there. He smiled sadly.

"So it's not The Outh?" His tone was amused, relaxed, mellow. He seemed to have liked saying the word Outh, he had made it long and glamorous-sounding and the afterglow of saying it stayed with him now in a slow smile. 

He began to turn. His wife was waiting for him.

"I thought it was an Irish word," he said.