The Empty Family

Colm Tóibín

The Empty Family

‘I imagined lamplight, shadows, soft voices, clothes put away, the low sound of late news on the radio. And I thought as I crossed the bridge at Baggot Street to face the last stretch of my own journey home that no matter what I had done, I had not done that.’ In the captivating stories that make up The Empty Family Colm Tóibín delineates with a tender and unique sensibility lives of unspoken or unconscious longing, of individuals, often willingly, cast adrift from their history. From the young Pakistani immigrant who seeks some kind of permanence in a strange town to the Irish woman reluctantly returning to Dublin and discovering a city that refuses to acknowledge her long absence each of Tóibín’s stories manage to contain whole worlds: stories of fleeing the past and returning home, of family threads lost and ultimately regained. 4.0 out of 5 based on 13 reviews
The Empty Family

Omniscore:

Classification Fiction
Genre Short Stories
Format Hardback
Pages 224
RRP £17.99
Date of Publication October 2010
ISBN 978-0670918171
Publisher Viking
 

‘I imagined lamplight, shadows, soft voices, clothes put away, the low sound of late news on the radio. And I thought as I crossed the bridge at Baggot Street to face the last stretch of my own journey home that no matter what I had done, I had not done that.’ In the captivating stories that make up The Empty Family Colm Tóibín delineates with a tender and unique sensibility lives of unspoken or unconscious longing, of individuals, often willingly, cast adrift from their history. From the young Pakistani immigrant who seeks some kind of permanence in a strange town to the Irish woman reluctantly returning to Dublin and discovering a city that refuses to acknowledge her long absence each of Tóibín’s stories manage to contain whole worlds: stories of fleeing the past and returning home, of family threads lost and ultimately regained.

Reviews

The Independent on Sunday

David Mattin

As with Brooklyn, the nine short stories collected here are composed with a purity of vision and a seriousness that seem somehow of a different, more reflective age. But that is only an incidental impression: in fact, at the heart of The Empty Family is a deep-running concern for modernity, and the spiritual deformations that it visits on us. It's a collection that will only further fuel Tóibín's ascent through English fiction.

03/10/2010

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The Daily Telegraph

Keith Miller

[An] exquisite and almost excruciating collection… The chief reason to read these stories is the peculiar power of Colm Tóibín’s prose.

09/09/2010

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The Scotsman

Allan Massie

He is a master of the "almost" moment, and this is especially true of the stories with an Irish setting and Irish characters… the brilliant and moving "Two Women"…[is] as good as the best William Trevor, than which there can be no higher praise.

26/09/2010

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The Spectator

Sebastian Smee

...for all their range, Tóibín’s stories are curiously all of a piece. The author brings to his varicoloured characters the same patient attentiveness, the same empathy unclouded by sentimentality, the same pellucid style. Those familiar with Tóibín’s novels will, moreover, find intriguing correspondences here.

16/10/2010

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The Financial Times

Angel Gurria-Quintana

The Empty Family is a perfect Tóibín sampler. In its themes and settings, its delicacy of tone and sudden intimacy of its revelations, it echoes and amplifies the sort of writing that makes his earlier work unique.

15/10/2010

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The Guardian

Hermione Lee

Tóibín's skill is to tell us, as an undertow to the personal stories, and not as explicit commentary, a great deal about the history and politics of 70s Spain, or about the "new" Ireland ... There are a few soggy moments – too many elegiac sentences starting with "And" – and some over-egging of phrases, as in "the poisonous innocence of the moon tonight". But mostly Tóibín banks himself down, as in Brooklyn, to impressive effect.

09/10/2010

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The Literary Review

Michael Arditti

The Empty Family has a deeply satisfying coherence rare in a story collection, offering several virtuosic variations on a few simple themes. As ever in Colm Tóibín’s world, there is little warmth and less humour, but there are ample compensations in the authenticity of the observations and the precision of the prose.

01/10/2010

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The New Statesman

DJ Taylor

As with Edmund White's full-frontal elegisings, the twin tropes of sleaze and sensibility in which the modern gay writer seems to specialise can sometimes defy harmonisation ... It is to Tóibín's credit that he can make both thrusting members and exquisitely nuanced reflections on the past look as if they were cut from the same imaginative cloth.

05/10/2010

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The Observer

Thomas Jones

All the stories here are suffused with loneliness, longing and regret, but there's an extraordinary restrained steeliness to the storytelling that prevents the characters' sadness from ever slumping into sentiment or self-pity.

03/10/2010

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The Sunday Telegraph

Holly Kyte

Poised and complete, this is Toíbín in perfect control of his art.

10/10/2010

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The Sunday Times

David Grylls

“Normal” families are the emptiest, these tales suggest. In one, a gay man wryly reflects on his superiority to a married couple: “No matter what I had done, I had not done that.” In another a man declares that his real family is not his wife and children but his gay lover. But, although homosexual affection offers the book’s most positive value, its prevailing atmosphere is darker. Transience, compromise and loss fall across its pages like Irish mist — a bit lowering, if beautifully observed.

26/09/2010

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The Independent

Aamer Hussein

These stories seem in some ways to parallel Tóibín's novel Brooklyn, both in their evocation of displacement, anomie and confusion, and in the control and economy of their prose. But there is a pent-up intensity in many that the novel did not match. Some pieces don't work - in the title story and "One Minus One", a ruminative first-person narrator attempts to chart an emotional experience in a lyrical, solipsistic style that isn't quite the author's forte.

08/10/2010

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Times Literary Supplement

Anthony Cummins

At times the gloom can seem close to self-pity. The speaker in the title story remarks in passing that the profit made on the two houses left to him by his family has “left me free, as though the word means anything, so that no matter how long I live I will not have to work again”. By contrast, the long concluding story, “The Street”, centres on an illegal immigrant from Pakistan who is forced to sell cheap mobile phones in Barcelona. He is by far the most stoical character in the book. Although his presence is a counterbalance to the prevailing atmosphere of complaint, it is striking that he is the only protagonist from outside Europe and that his plight is most romanticized.

08/10/2010

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