Saturday, December 6, 2014

"The Heather Blazing" and "The Blackwater Lightship," by Colm Toibin

I have written several times here about the great Irish writer Colm Toibin and his novels, and about hearing him speak and read on the radio and in person (1/28/10, 12/4/12, 1/20/13, 11/9/14, and 11/16/14). Upon hearing him read at a local bookstore lately, and then reading his most recent novel, “Nora Webster,” I was motivated to go back to read some of his very early novels that I had not yet read. I have now read his second novel, “The Heather Blazing” (Viking, 1992), and his fourth, “The Blackwater Lightship” (Scribner, 1999). Both of them are deeply rewarding. They are connected in that they take place mostly in the same area of Ireland where Toibin himself and his family were deeply rooted, and in that they share a few minor characters. But each stands firmly on its own. “The Heather Blazing” is about a judge who is upstanding and caring, but who because of a difficult childhood, has trouble expressing himself to his own family. “The Blackwater Lightship” is about a family coming together, despite former estrangements and tensions, to be with their family member Declan as he is dying of AIDS. Three generations of women – Declan’s grandmother, mother, and sister – along with two of Declan’s close friends – try their best to understand each other in spite of their rifts. Both of these stories are deeply human, very believable, and engrossing. What a body of work Toibin has created, and is still creating! I consider him one of the greatest writers of our time.

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