But when his third book, “This Side of Brightness,” got an enthusiastic reception, he shed his fear of the label — though there would be other milestones.
One was the commercial success of his fourth, a fictionalized version of the life of Rudolph Nureyev. It was a hit in several European countries. (His then 4-year-old son, on seeing copies of “Dancer” piled up on a store counter, said: “Dad, look at how many books you wrote!”)
Even nowadays, the New York resident McCann said “there are all sorts of moments” that boost his confidence — like the admiring review he got in Harper’s magazine for his latest novel, “Zoli,” by one of America’s most respected literary critics, John Leonard.
“That was just astounding to me,” the 42-year-old Dubliner told the Echo in an interview. “It floored me. The fact that he got the book — he got all the underlying politics.”
And now McCann must begin again.
“I don’t know a good novelist who’s not completely terrified,” he said about the process of starting a new work.
He’d discussed this recently with Richard Price, who’s best known for screenplays such as the “The Color of Money” and adaptations of his fiction like “Clockers.”
“He can knock out a screenplay, no problem. It’s formulaic,” McCann said. Novels are infinitely harder.
“A brilliant writer,” he added about Price.
His peers aren’t slow in turn to praise McCann, both the writer and the man. “Colum is the best in the world, the most affable and enjoyable company,” novelist Joseph O’Connor told the Echo. “He’s convivial and witty but also deeply serious, a rare enough mix. He’s one of those people who inspire huge affection.”
O’Connor, the author of “Star of the Sea,” described McCann as one of the most gifted Irish writers of his generation. “He’s also one of the most interesting, in that the ambition of his work is so fantastically broad,” he added. “No Irish writer since Brian Moore has Colum’s range.”
Years of research
Writing about “Zoli,” a London Guardian critic expressed a similar view: “You would have to be wildly reckless…to attempt a novel about a singer and poet set among Gypsies in Slovakia after the Second World War, and you would have to be as gifted and as skillful as Colum McCann to succeed at it.”
His efforts also impressed Ian Hancock, the director of the Romani Archives and Documentation Center at the University of Texas. “He called me up out of the blue, and said he loved the novel,” McCann said.
Hancock, a British-born Rom activist and linguist, said he was moved by “Zoli” and admired McCann’s unsentimental and clich