Reveiw: The Empty Family by Colm Tóibín

The Empty Family by Colm Tóibín
Publisher: Scribner
Publication Date: January 2011
Categories: Literary, Short Stories
Source: Library


Colm Tóibín’s exquisitely written new stories, set in present-day Ireland, 1970s Spain and nineteenth century England, are about people linked by love, loneliness and desire. Tóibín is a master at portraying mute emotion, intense intimacies that remain unacknowledged or unspoken. In this stunning collection, he cements his status as “his generation’s most gifted writer of love’s complicated, contradictory power” (Los Angeles Times).

“Silence” is a brilliant historical set piece about Lady Gregory, widowed and abandoned by her lover, who tells the writer Henry James a confessional story at a dinner party. In “Two Women,” an eminent Irish set designer, aloof and prickly, takes a job in her homeland, and is forced to confront devastating emotions she has long repressed. “The New Spain” is the story of an intransigent woman who returns home after a decade in exile and shatters the fragile peace her family has forged in the post-Franco world. And in the breathtaking long story “The Street,” Tóibín imagines a startling relationship between two Pakistani workers in Barcelona—a taboo affair in a community ruled by obedience and silence.

Tóibín’s characters are often difficult and combative, compelled to disguise their vulnerability and longings. Yet he unmasks them, and in doing so offers us a set of extraordinarily moving stories that remind us of the fragility and individuality of human life. As The New York Review of Books has said, Tóibín “understands the tenuousness of love and comfort—and, after everything, its necessity.”

My Thoughts:

Usually I have a difficult time reading short story collections. They run together for me and I can’t stop thinking of the book as a novel. But The Empty Family gave me no such problems. Every story was complete and separate and contained in its own fully formed world. 
I read most of The Empty Family during Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-Thon and finished it up the next day.  I read it at the end of the event. I was tired. No, I was exhausted. The fact that these stories grabbed my attention and kept me awake says a lot.
This book has been out for quite a while but it escaped my notice until I was looking for reading material for The Literary Others LGBT Reading Event. A big thanks to Adam @ Roof Beam Reader for inspiring me to look for books out of my normal reading range! 
Other Blogger’s Thoughts on The Empty Family:
I do not care much about the mysteries of the universe, unless they come to me in words, or in music maybe, or in a set of colours, and then I entertain them merely for their beauty and only briefly.

20 thoughts on “Reveiw: The Empty Family by Colm Tóibín

  1. I, on the other hand, really enjoy short stories, so I definitely want this one. Lovely cover on it, too. So glad it kept you awake through Readathon! That is quite a task. 🙂


  2. This sounds really interesting. I need to read more short stories, and this sounds like a great choice for The Literary Others Event. I'll have to put it on my TBR list!


  3. I've heard Toibin is an excellent author – but I didn't love this book (and I do like short stories). I think I called them the \”boring\” family stories … but I did like his writing style.


  4. I read Tóibín's \”Brooklyn\” a couple of years ago and remember being lukewarm about it—I thought it was beautifully written but the story and characters were a bit on the bland side for me. But I did like the writing enough that I would consider giving another Tóibín book a chance.


  5. I can't help but feel I've read about Henry James being at functions in various books. Was he really just everywhere… The fact it kept you awake does recommend it a great deal. I know what you mean about short stories running in together.


  6. This sounds beautiful. This is the first time I've heard of this book or author, but I find short stories great when I know I don't have the time or energy to get through a whole novel. I picked up a short story collection recently, although unintentionally. I'm finishing The Imperfectionists, which is a book of linked stories about the staff members of an English newspaper in Rome.


  7. Short stories are ok with me, but if each and every one of them touches you so deeply… I can imagine that reading them in succession can be quite exhausting! Perhaps they'd worked better as separate novellas?


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