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The Blackwater Lightship

Toibin, Colm

Published by Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, U.S.A., 2000
ISBN 10: 0684873893 / ISBN 13: 9780684873893
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Bibliographic Details

Title: The Blackwater Lightship

Publisher: Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, U.S.A.

Publication Date: 2000

Binding: Hard Cover

Book Condition: Fine

Dust Jacket Condition: Fine

Edition: First Edition.


A fine unread copy protected by Archival Brodart Cover. This author's books will appreciate at a very rapid rate. Size: 8vo - over 7¾" - 9¾" tall. Bookseller Inventory # 000266

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Synopsis: It is Ireland in the early 1990s. Helen, her mother Lily, and her grandmother Dora have come together, after a decade of estrangement, to tend to Helen's beloved brother, Declan, who is dying of AIDS. Under the crumbling roof of Dora's old house, Declan's two friends join the women as each waits for the end. The six of them, from different generations and with different beliefs, are forced to plumb the shoals of their own histories and to come to terms with each other.

"The Blackwater Lightship" is a beautifully written, deeply resonant story about three generations of an estranged family reuniting to mourn a tragic, untimely death. In spare, luminous prose, Colm Tiibin explores the nature of love and the complex emotions inside a family at war with itself. His fourth novel is about morals and manners, and the clashes of culture and personality. But most of all, it is a novel about the incomparable capacity of stories to heal the deepest wounds.

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 Devereuxs, 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

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