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The Blackwater Lightship [Paperback]

Colm Toibin
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
RRP: £8.99
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Book Description

7 Mar 2008

‘This is the most astonishing piece of writing, lyrical in its emotion and spare in its construction . . . Tóibín has crafted an unmissable read’ Sunday Herald

In Blackwater in the early 1990s, three women – Dora Devereux, her daughter Lily and her granddaughter Helen – have come together after years of strife and reached an uneasy truce. Helen’s adored brother Declan is dying. Two friends join him and the women in a crumbling old house by the sea, where the six of them, from different generations and with different beliefs, must listen and come to terms with one another.

‘It is in his emotional choreography that Tóibín shows himself to be an exceptional writer. Helen is estranged from both her mother and grandmother . . . Tóibín helps them make peace – and he does it beautifully’ Sunday Telegraph

‘He writes in spare, powerful prose and he is truly perceptive about family relationships which, at times, makes reading his stories incredibly painful. But this is a beautiful novel’ Belfast News

‘We shall be reading and living with The Blackwater Lightship in twenty years’ Independent on Sunday


Frequently Bought Together

The Blackwater Lightship + The Master + The Heather Blazing
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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; New Ed edition (7 Mar 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330389866
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330389860
  • Product Dimensions: 1.7 x 13 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 124,760 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Colm Tóibín was born in Ireland in 1955. He is the author of six novels including The Blackwater Lightship, The Master both of which were shortlisted for the Booker Prize and Brooklyn which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and won the Costa Novel Award, and an earlier collection of stories, Mothers and Sons.

Product Description

Amazon Review

Set in Ireland in the 1990s, the The Blackwater Lightship tells the story of the Devereux family. Helen doesn't get on with her mother Lily, and Lily doesn't get on with her mother Dora. Three generations of women, tetchy with recriminations and memory, are forced together when they discover that Helen's younger brother, Declan, is dying from an AIDS-related illness: "It was like a dark shadow in a dream, and then it became real and sharp."

This novel is an intense examination of Colm Toibin's signature themes: death, loss, illness and morality. However, if the themes are a continuance from his previous books, the style is a distinct departure from the lyrical prose of The Story of the Night and The Heather Blazing. In The Blackwater Lightship Toibin strips his style down to spare sentences, and what is said is bleaker: "It was clear to her now that it did not matter whether there were people or not--the world would go on. Imaginings and resonances and pains and small longings, they meant nothing against the hardness of the sea." It is almost as if he is writing us and himself, as the novelist, out of the picture. The familiar poetry of landscape: "the sudden rise in the road and then the first view of the sea glinting in the slanted summer light", is all that is left.

There is not much plot, the book concentrates on the gradual unfolding of talk between the Devereux clan, and two friends of Declan's, who have fine lines of catty commentary. Dora asks: "Is there a need to rake over everything?" But words, even bitter ones, are shaky constants, when everything else is crumbling. This puts a lot of pressure on the prose; when it works well it's charged with suppressed emotion, strangely lulling in its determination to be quiet and ordinary. But sometimes its simplicity makes the book a little static, threatening to becalm the reader. The Blackwater Lightship is a book about the frailty of human experiences, in the face of indifferent nature: "soon they would only be a memory, and that too would fade with time." Toibin deals with the tricky balance between hopefulness and hopelessness with elegant economy, and very few stumbles. --Eithne Farry

Review

Jim Marks "The Washington Post Book World" ...supple, beautifully modulated prose, complex relationships and careful construction...a powerful and absorbing novel. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An intense exploration of the ties that bind. 15 Sep 2003
By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAME TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Colm Toibin cuts straight to the heart in this sensitive novel of an independent daughter, long estranged from her overly controlling mother, and their attempt to reach some sort of understanding and level of communication. Daughter Helen and mother Lily are drawn to the neutral ground of Helen's grandmother's house in rural Ireland when Helen's brother Declan is gravely ill with AIDS and wants to return to the strand for a last look at the sea. Toibin is both straightforward and graphic in describing Declan's declining health and completely open in describing the romantic relationships of Paul and Larry, Declan's two gay friends who are also attending him at the cottage in Cush. But the focus of the story remains squarely on Helen and Lily and their long estrangement, so intense that Lily was never invited to attend Helen's wedding and, after seven years, still has not seen her grandchildren. In the crucible of Declan's sick room, those attending him are painfully aware of the tenuousness of life, and as they reach out to him with love, they share many of their innermost feelings and the stories that have shaped their lives.
In prose that is so simple and so controlled one wonders how it can possibly carry the weight of these emotion packed scenes, Toibin empathizes with Helen, a daughter whose mother failed to meet her emotional needs when she was a child, and then tried to overpower and control her when she became strong enough to stand on her own. At the same time, he explores Lily's competing needs and the limitations imposed on her by her husband's early death and her need to support her family both financially and physically.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
I read Toibin's "The South" over Christmas and was amazed at the beauty of that short novel. It really touched me in a way few books about something so distant from my own life have ever done. Since then I have been on the lookout for another book by him, and chanced upon this title.
I was disappointed. Toibin is still a masterful storyteller, his use of language alarmingly natural and fluid. Yet this book seems cobbled together somehow. The story itself is unremarkable, the characters, as other reviewers have pointed out, annoyingly stereotyped. For example, was it really necessary to have the "gay" characters discuss their individual coming out episodes? This cheapened the book for me.
Whereas "The South" was touchingly individual, with little to say in terms of blatant didacticism, "The Blackwater Lightship" seems to carry with it too much of a heavy "worthiness." That said, Toibin has written a better than average novel that is worth reading if there is nothing better lying around.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'Imaginings and resonances and pain' 15 Oct 2000
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
A young Dublin man, Declan, is dying of AIDS. He comes out of hospital to go back and stay at his Grandmother's house by the sea. This brings his Grandmother Dora, his mother Lily, and his sister Helen there to join him, together with two of Declan's gay friends Paul and Larry. Although the tragedy of an AIDS death is at the centre of the book, it isn't the focus. In fact Declan is the least realised character. The real story is the difficult relationship between the three women. Lily and Helen in particular have barely spoken for years.
The book follows Helen, in third person past tense, but sympathy moves around. We get Helen's viewpoint, and see her mother through her eyes - but we also see her vision as partial and flawed. The book doesn't apportion blame - it shows all the characters as complex with their own internal lives that others - even those closest to them - can never fully comprehend.
I found some of the writing and dialogue a little flat, but the book became more moving as it went on. And there is a real parallel in its viewpoint with that of Jim Crace in 'Being Dead':
'Imaginings and resonances and pain and small longings and prejudices. They meant nothing against the resolute hardness of the sea...It might have been better, she felt, if there had never been people, if this turning of the world, and the glistening sea, and the morning breeze happened without witnesses, without anyone feeling, or remembering, or dying, or trying to love.'
This is millennial blues and a sense of our insignificance in the grand scheme of things, but it is balanced by, despite everything, the warmth of everyone towards Declan, and the attempts they all finally make - however haltingly - to understand and connect with each other.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars better as a TV drama 23 July 2000
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
I read all the previous reviews, and I feel a bit cheated that the book failed to touch me at all. I really hated all the cliches in it and I didn't find any of the characters were explored enough to be heroines. Of course, we are told blatant truths about Helen, for example, but the author tells them himself; we should be left to find Helen's fears from herself, not by it being pointed out openly by the author. It feels like an Oprah Winfrey show, where everyone is exploring their fears, but no one rises beyond them to live. It also bothers me that we are instructed all along on the characters by the author, but none of their dialogue or thoughts tell these things to us independently, which means basically that his building of characters is at fault. The grandmother was the highlight, but then all the females were so spoilt for me by their bitterness for each other. I wish at least part of this bitterness was a little better explored, but it wasn't; it was just there, and at times it really felt like the three women were just a bunch of old hags just blaming and gossiping about everyone else. All said, it would definately serve better as a TV drama that housewives would watch but I would definately ignore.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars a touching family tale
The Blackwater Lightship is easy to read and draws you in as the characters develop . Although the subject of the story is sad the relationships are very heart warming and touching... Read more
Published 7 months ago by V.A. Tuxill
3.0 out of 5 stars Powerful Novel
Never heard of this author before, and this is the first book of his that I have read.

It is set in Ireland, and is centred around three estranged generations of the... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Half Man, Half Book
4.0 out of 5 stars Moving
This is a moving account of a family which is brought together by the illness of one of its members. Beautifully written with skillfully developed and engaging characters.
Published 9 months ago by KLP
4.0 out of 5 stars Irish lit
My first very Irish book and I am thoroughly enjoying it. Very atmospheric and it immerses the readers in it
Published 9 months ago by Mrs. Elizabeth A. Makin
4.0 out of 5 stars Mothers and daughters...
Helen has had a strained relationship with her mother Lily and grandmother Dora for years. But now Helen's brother Declan is dying of AIDS, and the three women are forced to come... Read more
Published 12 months ago by FictionFan
3.0 out of 5 stars second hand paperback
It arrived on time and is still good value for money but the condition is not quite as good as described. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Mrs Sandra G Hitching
2.0 out of 5 stars Boring
Very is appointed as was most of my book club. Good if not excellent characters but I was order and skimmed. Very unusual for me?
Published 13 months ago by h
3.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written.
Lovely to read but little 'story'. Too much 'navel gazing' for my taste, I would like to have yelled at all the characters "get on and enjoy what life you have, and stop... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Mrs. D. B. Milledge
5.0 out of 5 stars A great, small book.
One of the best books. It reminds us of the awful days when friends were dying of Aids but that story is almost secondary to the family detail which touches us all. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Eileen O'Brien
3.0 out of 5 stars Shallow and Disjointed
The Blackwater Lightship is the story of family secrets, prejudices and misunderstandings all brought sharply into focus when one of the family members, Declan, discloses that he... Read more
Published 18 months ago by Calypso
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