Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Empty Family - Colm Tóibín

I might have started on a wrong book. Colm Toibin has been in the list of writers I wanted to read for a long time But, surely, this wasn't the place to begin, or so I believe. This collection of 9  stories not only disappointed by  this book but surely dampened my interest in reading any more for a while, at least.

As a theme, all these stories are around individuals, living an alienated life from their beloved. They are all wanderers, staying away from their homeland ( in US or Spain ) and all have a lasting longing for their homeland. In many stories, they are all back in Ireland, despite being away, for reasons such as death, that bring them closer to their motherland. All of them are linked to the others through love, desire and in loneliness trying to find their own solace in these passing relationship. Colm Toibin, play with this  basic emotion of the human, in its intimacies, in its subtle, untold but deep expressions in fairly effective way , at times too explicit and repulsive.

The last story of the collection, the longest for more than 60 pages , which talk about homo-erotic relationship among migrant workers from Pakistan in Barcelona, to me is the worst of the lot. Apart from the fact that the love and relationship are between men, it is a silly story fit for a 'bollywood flick'. Take one man out of the triangle and replace with the heroine, it had all the ingredients for a cheap 'masala' movie. Explicit , graphic gay sex scenes aren't my cup of tea. They are galore in this series, and they aren't erotic, but disgusting. One story of a young man trying to take care of his dying aunt ( The color of Shadows), is the only story worth remembering. I thought that, including its fantastic twist at the end, was a good story. Perhaps, "The Pearl Fishers" too, for its attempt to  bring out those moments which are buried deep down in the minds of the three and "the time has come to reveal", the misconduct of the Priest happened years back in their boarding school.

His writing and language is good, and there is no mistake of his capabilities. But this collection of stories, some how, did not live up to the expectations I had on this writer. Barcelona 1975 , about young gay sex party ( well that is all I could gather)(, or 'The New Spain', about a young revolutionary returning back to her family after the death of Franco, from her exile and the earlier said Pakistani story are played out in Spain. Few stories "The Empty Family", "One minus One" and 'Two women' are also fairly ok.  As the plots are centered around the US, Ireland and Spain with some connect to the land distant , the nostalgia, the sense of loss and the alienation continue to take form in every other stories.  But that alone does not make this a great collection of stories. Except for  his control over language, and the continuity of the theme of isolation and loneliness, there is nothing noteworthy in these stories.
The Empty Family ( 2010)

Colm Toibin

Penguin Books

214 Pages
NY Times, Guardian, Oprah , The Telegraph

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