Saturday, September 1, 2012

Book Review: The Empty Family by Colm Toibin

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Scribner
Pages: 275

Nine exquisitely crafted stories make up this gem of a book, set in present-day Ireland, 1970’s Spain, and nineteenth-century England. Each story is a unique perspective on loneliness, desire, and love-lost.

“Silence” presents Lady Gregory, a woman married to a man she abhors. Her loneliness is temporarily quenched by an impeccable lover, but she is then abandoned by love and forced to live out her life, never being able to speak of her one great passion.

“Two Women” tells of a prickly set designer who takes a job in her hometown in Ireland, and is forced to confront the emotions of loss she has long repressed.

“The Street” draws a portrait of Pakistani immigrants working in Spain who must hide their relationship while living in a community ruled by the laws set forth in the Koran, obedience to Allah, and silence.

All nine stories are shatteringly beautiful, thought provoking, and poignant, but these three stand out as superlative.  Toibin is a master of the written word, presenting immaculately crafted stories with vivid, unsensationalized prose.

The Empty Family was my introduction to this author, but I was so impressed that I will acquire every book of fiction he has published. This volume of nine stories will go on my favorite’s shelf and will be re-read again and again.

For readers looking for warm, happily ever after, my advice is to keep looking. For readers who demand rich, bittersweet, and profound storytelling, then run to the nearest bookstore and buy a copy, or two. This is literature at its finest. 

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