Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"The Empty Family" by Colm Toibin

"I have come back here. I can look out and see the soft sky and the faint line of the horizon and the way the light changes over the sea. It is threatening rain. I can sit on this old high chair that I had shipped from a junk store on Market Street and watch the calmness of the sea against the misting sky."
So begins "The Empty Family", title story in Colm Toibin's latest collection. It's about a homecoming of sorts, but the wistful, contemplative story actually reads more like a letter to an old lover "You must know that I am back here."  After an extended stay in California, the writer has returned to a beloved seaside home in Ireland.  A walk to the strand leads to a chance encounter with his ex's brother and sister-in-law, and an offer to try the telescope they use to watch the sea.
"It came to me that the sea is not a pattern, it is a struggle. Nothing matters against the fact of this. The waves were like people battling out there, full of consciousness and will and destiny and an abiding sense of their own beauty."
I was, as always, struck by the beauty of Toibin's writing and felt myself being carried away by his prose. At this point, the story turned into a meditation on life:
"It [the wave] had an elemental hold; it was something coming towards us as though to save us but it did nothing instead, it withdrew in a shrugging irony, as if to suggest that this is what the world is, and our time in it, all lifted possibility, all complexity and rushing fervour, to end in nothing on a small strand, and go back out to rejoin the empty family from whom we had set out alone with such a brave burst of unknowing energy." 
"And all that I have in the meantime is this house, this light, this freedom, and I will, if I have the courage, spend my time watching the sea, noting its changes and the sounds it makes, studying the horizon, listening to the wind or relishing the calm when there is no wind. I will not fly even in my deepest dreams too close to the sun or too close to the sea. The chance for all of that has passed."
Other stories by this author have had much more in the way of plot but, in this case, the words and language seemed to be enough. I will be curious to see if "The Empty Family" is representative of the entire collection.

Irish Short Story Week, hosted at The Reading Life, runs from March 12-22.


15 comments:

  1. I haven't read anything by this author. I started Brooklyn, which I believe is by the same author, but it didn't pull me in so I put it down.

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  2. Ti - Yes, Brooklyn is also by Toibin. It's a very quiet novel, but I loved the audio version.

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  3. I loved Brooklyn and am now tempted by another of his novels. I like that two of the quotes have references to the sea and light. I shall remember this one for when I want to read another Toibin

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    1. Joan Hunter Dunn - I loved Brooklyn, too! References to the sea (or any body of water) always go over well with me.

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  4. Joann-thanks so much for participating for a second year in Irish Short Story Week-which this year goes from March 12 to March 31, yes a long week! I have read Toibin's novel based on the London years of Henry James, I loved it. I have also read two of his short stories, one of which, "News From Dublin" I will post on soon. thanks for joining in

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    1. Mel U - I'm hoping to put together one more post before Irish Short Story Week ends. The Master has been on my wish list for years.. don't know why it's taking so long to read it.

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  5. This sounds like a lovely story--I adore Toibin's writing, so fluid. Will watch for this collection. Thank you, JoAnn!

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    1. DS - Fluid is a great word to describe Toibin's writing. I'm definitely a fan!

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  6. I checked the literary Podcasts of the Manchester Guardian today, yesterday they posted a story read by Colm Tobin from his collection of stories, Mothers and Sons. The story is "Song" and it is about the chance meeting of a mother who left her family for another man, went on to become a famous singer of Celtic songs, and 19 years latter by accident meets her grown son in a bar-it is just a beautiful story and it is great to hear an author read his own work.

    On March 13 there is a also a podcast of a really good Elizabeth Bowen story, "Homecoming" told from the point of few of a girl ten or so who is mad at her Mother.

    the stories were posted on the Guardian in honor of Mothering Day in the UK

    thanks so much for joining in-Irish Short Story Week has been extended until March 31-any and all are very welcome to joing

    thanks so much for your second year of particpation-it means a lot to me

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    1. Mel u - Thanks so much for the podcast information. I will look for them... would love to hear Colm Toibin read one of his stories!

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  7. I always love your book selections...makes me read outside my comfort zone. This one sounds interesting.

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    1. Staci - It seems like I've been pushing my limits lately... am nearly ready to retreat with some 'comfort reads' ;-)

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  8. I heard the podcast of Song, the Toibin short story that Mel recommended and I'm eager to try more of his works. The Empty Family sounds lovely. Will try to find it.

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    1. CHE - If you can't find The Empty Family, Toibin's collection Mothers & Sons is wonderful, too! Thanks for visiting.

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  9. Hi-I have posted this month on two short stories from The Empty Family, "Two Women" and "The Colour of Shadows"-both of which were wonderful-I wanted to invite you to participate in Irish Short Story Month Year Three March 1 to March 31 should you have the time thanks

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. These conversations are my favorite part of blogging. Please check back, I almost always respond to comments!

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