The Empty Family: Stories Hardcover – Jan 4 2011
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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.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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".
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.
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
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.
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.