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The Empty Family: Stories Hardcover – Jan 4 2011

5.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: McClelland & Stewart; 1st Edition edition (Jan. 4 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0771084331
  • ISBN-13: 978-0771084331
  • Product Dimensions: 14.9 x 2 x 22.1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 408 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #382,427 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


A Globe and Mail Best Book

Praise for Mothers and Sons:
"Brilliant. . . . A book to be offered to anyone who savors some of the most accomplished and nuanced soundings contemporary fiction has to offer. . . . Tóibín's craft is immaculate." 
— Pico Iyer, New York Times Book Review

"It's truly remarkable that a writer of Tóibín's great felicity, immense seriousness and general large awareness - a writer so naturally gifted as a novelist - can deliver short stories of such subtle empathy and brilliance. He's dazzling." 
— Richard Ford

About the Author

COLM TÓIBÍN is the award-winning author of six internationally acclaimed novels, most recently The Blackwater Lightship, The Master, winner of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, Le prix du meilleur livre étranger, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction, and Brooklyn, winner of the Costa Novel Award. Tóibín's previous book of short fiction was the #1 national bestseller Mothers and Sons. He lives in Dublin, Ireland.

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Format: Hardcover
The people who feature in the nine stories that make up this collection seem to be solitary individuals with strong needs for personal autonomy. This results in a sense of loneliness, of detachment from the people and events surrounding them, even when they return home for a funeral or to attend to some unfinished business. But loneliness is sometimes regretted, at least a little. Consider Lady Gregory reflecting on her affair with the poet Wilfrid Scawen Blunt in `Silence', feeling the lack of `a close discreet friend to whom such things could be whispered.' Carme, in `The New Spain' has travelled home to Menorca to claim her inheritance. While she feels `no desire to make contact with anyone, no one she had left behind in London, and no one here...' her energies are absorbed in recapturing aspects of the past. Once she has rid herself of her parents and resolved to remove the wall that her father built between her grandmother's house and the sea, she feels `a contentment that she had never expected to feel, an ease she had not believed would ever come her way.' Both women, in their different ways, are drawn to the past.

Other stories include `Two Women' in which a well-known but difficult Irish-born set designer returns to Ireland and comes face to face with an aspect of her past life, when she meets the wife of her long ago (and now dead) lover. `The Street' in which Malik and Abdul, two Pakistani workers in Barcelona, surreptitiously establish and then come to terms with the nature of their relationship is both the longest story in the collection and in many ways the most challenging. The loneliness, in both these cases, is at least partly a consequence of choice.

The past is one theme in this collection, as is loss and exile.
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By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on March 1 2011
Format: Hardcover
In his latest literary release, the modern Irish novelist, Colm Toibin, introduces his readers to the strange and alienating world of the unloving family as seen through the eyes of the returning prodigal. Each of the stories in this collection deal with individuals who have courageously decided to return to their past to recover a missing part of their troubled lives: the warm and reassuring embrace of family as expected in a traditional Irish home. None of these stories offer that mythical Irish welcome mat for those returning from afar. As an Irish man who has lived abroad for years, I can truly appreciate the experience of feeling alone in my native land. What Toibin's characters find instead is a wall of indifference, a veil of contempt and a vacuum of emptiness. To underscore the growing sense of disconnectedness and unease between individual and family, Toibin takes us through painful encounters where old settings and memories are dredged up in minute detail without any hope of bringing people back together in a renewed and loving relationship. It is as if these former familial settings in the stories remain as a troubling reminder of the lack of human grace or power to sustain them into the future. This is because at that critical moment when the past meets the present, the awful truth is revealed: the family is merely an empty social shell from which the individuals have long ago stepped out into the bigger world to fend for themselves. Toibin portrays them as truly irreconcilable outcasts who wander in from faraway countries where the morality and sense of purpose is so vastly different that they might as well be from another planet. As short stories go, all are superbly written, packed with intriguing detail, involving great story lines but, alas, lacking in a sense of ultimate purpose. None of the main characters ever has their true identity as sons, daughters, or lovers affirmed within the context of family.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x9d0bb498) out of 5 stars 42 reviews
95 of 97 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9d0fcc9c) out of 5 stars All the Lonely People Jan. 3 2011
By Charlus - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
The nine elegiac stories that make up this exquisite collection feature characters united in their solitude, isolated souls reflecting on their lives and wounds. What unites the stories themselves is the sculpted beauty of Mr. Toibin's prose. Loss and longing are the emotional undercurrents, whether that of an adulterous affair, a gay love story in a repressive society, or the pain of a love affair that reached the end of its natural life but keeps up an afterlife unknown even to its protagonists. Ireland is the home that his characters (try to) escape from or are pulled back to, willingly and not. Other stories are voiced like love letters to the anonymous "you".

Here is one writer who goes from strength to strength; he seems to just get better with each successive work. While the stories may vary in how satisfying one finds each of the narratives, Toibin's precise ability to catch the ebb and flow of his characters thoughts and emotions remains thrillingly constant. A collection worthy of the author of "The Master" and "Brooklyn".
31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9d103d5c) out of 5 stars The Colour of Shadows Jan. 19 2011
By Anne Colamosca - Published on Amazon.com
"When he went upstairs and looked at his old bedroom, he noticed how worn the carpet was, and how the color on the wallpaper had faded. He must, he thought, have noticed this before, but now the room seemed shabby and strange, almost unfamiliar, and not the room he had slept in every night throughout his childhood, with the small desk in the corner where he did his homework."

The Colour of Shadows is my favorite story in this amazing collection of short stories by Irish witer Colm Toibin. As has been written about Toibin before, he is at his most authentic when he is writing about the people and places of Ireland.

This story is heartbreakingly simple: Paul, a gay man, living in Dublin quietly takes over the care of his dying aunt Josie who has raised him. The two are very close (at some level) and have great respect and tenderness for one another. Yet there is one utterance from Josie --near death -- mistaking Paul for a family friend, that momentarily shatters their relationship. Yet the strength of this piece is its simplicity, its quiet style and honest description of the town, the neighbors and his aunt. It never turns into overwrought, confrontational dialogue. The narrator simply tells the tale of deep love marred by the inability of Josie,an otherwise giving and generous person, to understand Paul's homosexuality because of her age and her own upbringing. It is painful, but Paul understands, at some level, that she nevertheless loved him, and took great care of him as a child.
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9d435288) out of 5 stars Extraordinary and Emotional Stories Jan. 21 2011
By Bookreporter - Published on Amazon.com
The nine stories in Colm Tóibín's THE EMPTY FAMILY are set in such locations as Ireland, Spain and the U.S. Their time frames range from 19th-century England to the 1970s through the present day. Though disparate in several ways, these offerings share certain elements. They reflect themes of life, loss and solitude, but more importantly, beautiful writing that tugs at the heart of the reader in ways that words simply cannot describe.

The Irish-born Tóibín is the author of six novels, including THE BLACKWATER LIGHTSHIP, THE MASTER (winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize) and BROOKLYN (winner of the Costa Book Award). He has taught at Stanford, the University of Texas, and Princeton. Whether the setting is Spain, Ireland or the U.S., Tóibín's writing shows a remarkable recognition of history and locale. Reading "One Minus One," he describes a time period when he taught in New York City as "the city was about to enter its last year of innocence." By that brief descriptive passage, Tóibín does far more than establish time. Through the power of literary economy, he describes a moment in history we will never forget.

The title story of the collection is set in California, a coastal locale the narrator treats as a substitute for his Irish homeland. "The Empty Family" reminds us of family, death and home. The narrator understands that home is more than a place; it's life, a combination of experience, objects and family. One can never leave home and family.

Frances Rossiter is the main character in "Two Women." A respected film set designer "almost precisely between seventy-five and eighty," she comes back to Dublin for a movie assignment. Her return brings memories of a long-ago love affair. By chance she meets the widow of her lover and comes to understand how both of them were a part of his life, each offering him a part of their lives that the other could not. Through those two distinct contributions, they helped make his life complete. It's a poignant and enlightening meeting.

"One Minus One" is another story of loss and displacement. It finds the narrator living in Texas, thinking of his mother on the anniversary of her death. Six years ago, he returned to Ireland for her funeral. Recounting the details through thoughts of his ex-lover and the loss of that relationship, he recalls all he has lost. Tóibín is a man who has travelled around the globe, but clearly part of him has never left Ireland.

The longest contribution to THE EMPTY FAMILY is "The Street," a novella set in Barcelona. The story focuses on Pakistini immigrants who are exploited and controlled and their struggle to live in post-Franco Spain. Two of the inhabitants of an immigrant house, Malik and Abdul, eventually fall in love. Their relationship is uncovered, and they suffer the consequences of ostracism. Somehow they persevere because, as Abdul eventually says to Malik, "My real family is you."

The stories here contain a certain autobiographical element, reflecting the issues inherent in the modern post-1950s generation. The common themes of regret and longing may make the book difficult to read without great emotion. Still, the extraordinary tone set by this beautiful writing makes THE EMPTY FAMILY a wonderful collection.

--- Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9d0b61d4) out of 5 stars Falls a little short of the Toibim standard Sept. 5 2011
By P. J. Owen - Published on Amazon.com
The Empty Family is the latest collection of stories from one of the better fiction writers today, Colm Toibim. Toibim writes in a sometimes dry and clinical fashion, but with this sparse and elegant prose he is somehow able to pull the deepest emotions from his characters, to show them at their most vulnerable and human, even as they fight to mask it. His most recent works, Brooklyn, and his last story collection, Mothers and Sons, were both masterful works.

The Empty Family though falls a little short of its predecessors.

There are some memorable stories here. The opener, `Silence', is a brilliant historical piece about one Lady Gregory, widowed by an elderly husband and abandoned by her true love, who at a dinner party reveals her secret pain to the novelist Henry James as an idea a for a novel. In `Two Women', a rude and domineering set designer is humbled in a surprise encounter with a former rival. `The New Spain' shows us an exile who comes home to post-Franco Spain to find a country, and a family, she doesn't recognize. These first two especially show Toibim's mastery of hidden pain. The last delves into loneliness, also a recurrent theme here.

But there are a few duds this time around. `The Empty Family' requires another reading to decipher, if one would only want to. `Barcelona, 1975' seems to be primarily about sex. (And this is something to be aware of if you haven't read Mothers and Sons: Toibim sometimes likes to get graphic.)

Still, though it's not perfect, Toibim is always worthwhile. But If you haven't read him before, I would start with one of his earlier works, like The Master, Brooklyn, or Mothers and Sons.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9d0aa7bc) out of 5 stars Unprepared for Toibin April 2 2011
By Dawn Killen-Courtney - Published on Amazon.com
I've never read a word by Colm Toibin before this amazing collection, but you can believe I will read many more words of his. He is one of the excellent ones, the ones who, though they are shaping tales with the same language we use daily, are somehow putting a different shine on it, making "mere" language more than itself, making art that moves us. I haven't encountered that to such a degree since I read Henry Roth's _Call It Sleep_.

I was most connected to the stories of family, of the loss of the older generation, the way it feels after they are gone.In these stories I kept finding a piece of myself here, and a piece there, and parts of the unwritten,unspoken thoughts that go on in the back of my mind, that I am barely conscious of. We know, we know, we feel we do not say.

He conveyes so much emotion with what he is holding back, I don't know how he does it, but I know that this is great art, superb writing. It makes me feel, not just skim words across my brain. He connects the human condition through its isolation. Just a great find. I highly recommend this collection.

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