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The Empty Family: Stories by Colm Toibin

The key themes running through the stories comprising The Empty Family are distance and loss – the protagonists are either foreigners or self exiled, living in halfway types of existences in an attempt to straddle all the worlds they have lived in, or shutting out previous lives only to find that it’s futile to do so. 

Stand out examples in this collection include “Two Women”, in which a haughty set designer is forced to confront her Irish homeland and the reality behind an ended love affair, “The Colour of Shadows”, a careful study of how one takes care of a fading elderly relative and finds out a shocking secret right before her death, and “The Street”, a story about the tenderness between two immigrant workers in Barcelona and the forbidding structure of their society that barely lets them acknowledge each other.

I have heard of Colm Toibin for years; The Empty Family is my first excursion into his world of fiction.  He writes beautifully and covers difficult subject matter; some stories here easily fall within the gay fiction genre, but not all – Toibin’s characters are universal in their problems.  Some are sympathetic and some display hard edges that change throughout the telling of the tale.

Other selected books by Colm Toibin in the GPL collection:

Brooklyn:  A Novel

Mothers and Sons:  Stories

The Master:  A Novel

(William Hicks, Information Services)


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