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Customer Review

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Usual high quality writing, could do with a couple of stories trimming, 27 Mar. 2011
This review is from: The Empty Family: Stories (Hardcover)
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This new short story collection from Colm Toibin concerns itself with the idea of family, the majority of the works contained are about someone returning home to family. Set mainly in Ireland and Barcelona, both places Toibin has lived, it is tempting to think of them as autobiographical, particularly as the protagonists are often the stereotypical misunderstood gay Irish man.

It is a collection about people searching for place, both geographical and emotional. Many of the stories are about a person returning to visit a dying relative, or returning once a close family member has passed away.

Some of the collection are really beautiful. Toibin's stripped back and deceptively simple prose style works well when he is dealing with complex emotions, there is enough space in the text for the reader to project themselves. Each tale hinges around a pivotal moment in the main character's life, a moment when everything could change for them.

The ghost of Henry James hangs over this collection, explicitly in the fantastic 'Silence' in which Toibin imagines the events that caused one of the notes in 'The Notebooks of Henry James'. This is speculative fiction at its best, weaving a complex and stylish story the sparse one paragraph source material.

The fact that there are repeated motifs and events through the majority of the stories builds a powerful whole, it is as if you are approaching the same subject matter from different angles and so building up a complete picture.

Then towards the end a couple of stories completely unhinge the collection. 'Barcelona, 1975', is so full of gratuitous sex as to be pornography. So graphic that it seems like Toibin is deliberately trying to shock and the story totally throws the collection off kilter. And while 'The Street' contains a powerful sense of place and some affecting scenes, the central relationship seems uncomfortably close to exploitation.
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Location: England

Top Reviewer Ranking: 21,900