This is a collection of stories from Toibin which is varied in range and setting, though a weight does adhere, a certain flatness of tone, to some of the prose. The first in the collection The Use of Reason concerns a man who has stolen paintings from a museum, one of which is a painting by Rembrandt of a very old woman. The man (never named) learns through a policeman who has become an ally, though not a trusted one, that another cop is a drinking partner of his mother, and his mother talks intemperately, especially in drink. This makes him ultra cautious about getting rid of the paintings, though he seems to have a solution through a couple of Dutchmen, who have arrived to view the Rembrandt. The maddening caution he has to use to feel secure eventually eats away at his reasoning abilities and he eventually decides that it would be safest to burn the painting. There is a dark, twisted sort of humour in this story which gives it a richly compelling feel.
Mothers and their sons are deftly created, and the strength of this writing is in its delicate piecing together of relationships, a sure, taut, measured storytelling style and the gift of empathy entirely unmarked by sentiment. It's not flashy and there are few moments of relief from the fatalism of family conflict, but for all that, there is a stately kind of beauty within these pages.