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The Empty Family

3.65 of 5 stars 3.65  ·  rating details  ·  1,294 ratings  ·  239 reviews
Tóibín returns to his native shores from Brooklyn for the bulk of these nine pristine stories, all--save one--contemporary tales of lives haunted by loss, whether it's the legacy of a sexually abusive priest in an already complicated love triangle in "The Pearl Fishers," the long-absent gay son who returns to Dublin from New York to attend to his mother's last moments in " ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published January 3rd 2012 by Scribner (first published 2010)
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Sheenagh Pugh
If all the stories in this collection were as absorbing as "Silence" and "The Colour of Shadows", I'd have given it a 5 or 4. On the other hand, if they were all as inconsequential and self-absorbed as "Barcelona, 1975" or "One Minus One" it'd be a 1.

They all concern people alienated in some way from home and family, and usually returning home if only temporarily. I'm not sure if I like collections of stories to be as themed and alike as this. I think one advantage of a collection of stories is
I've given this 4 stars, instead of 5, because I liked his Mothers and Sons: Stories even more. And because one story in the middle, while just as well-written as the others, eluded me. As usual, his work is full of characters that live, and his stories are written in such a deceptively simple style that the endings hit you with a quiet devastation -- something that can make a story for me. And I don't think the 'devastation' is necessarily bleak, as the character is showing an accommodation to ...more
I love Colm Toibin's writing. It's so spot on much of the time that you wonder if there could possibly be any other way to say the things he says. I love the women he creates. They're so real, from the crusty to the geriatric to the young and the fierce and the selfish. Many of the stories in this collection didn't let me down. A big fan of his novel "Brooklyn", I was once again amazed at the reality of his characters and situations: the awkwardness of reconciling adolescent activities and attit ...more
With the exception of the title story, whose nameless first-person narrator's tortured elliptical reminiscences were too baffling to be affecting, the stories in this collection are terrific. With his characteristic understated prose and perfect pitch, Toibin examines themes of exile, loss, and regret. Most of the characters in these stories have made a choice to leave their place of origin (Ireland, Spain, Pakistan - in most of the stories Toibin is interested in exploring the regrets that such ...more
I really love Colm Toibin's writing at this point. At first I was a bit underwhelmed but with time it's become apparent that his work lingers and there is a distinct way to read it. "Silence" sticks out especially for its conveyance of regret; specifically the way regret sits, alive but unobtrusive, within a person. The same can be said of "Two Women," a story which, alongside "The Pearl Fishers," reveals a surprisingly modern wit. Toibin works beautifully with historical settings (maybe because ...more
Tress Huntley
What I enjoy about Colm Toibin's writing style is its simultaneous urgency and quietness. This effect was much more powerful in his novel Brooklyn, and drew me to want to read more of his writing. The Empty Family is a collection of short stories set in modern day Ireland, 1970s Spain and ninteenth Century England. Each story focuses on the emotional truth of its central character, a truth that is private and deeply held. Toibin has an almost magical way of drawing out these emotional truths whi ...more
These are superbly written and I would give 5 stars to at least two of them, "Two Women" and "The Colour of Shadows," while for sheer beauty of language the title story stands out. There is a gay element to each of the stories except for "Two Women" and "The New Spain" (the longest story here and, in my opinion, the least of them.) One reviewer here said that there was graphic and gratuitous gay sex here. Graphic some of it certainly is, but hardly gratuitous. I would say that it's next to impos ...more
This is the first time I've read Colm Toibin, and it won't be the last. This collection of short stories is a wonderful addition to anyone's bookshelf. I am a fan of the short story especially when a writer is skilled at allowing the reader to enter into a character's world for a brief moment and garner so much about that person, and that is what Toibin has achieved with this collection.

Some of the stories are better than others, I loved One Minus One which deals with a son returning to Ireland
I do not think short stories are Tóibín's strongest suit - I think longer forms serve him better (my favorite story was the longest story). A good short story can be (though I don't want to make any really strong normative claims) a bit like a slap out of nowhere, and he doesn't have that talent, which I think I . . . probably should have guessed before reading these.

But my evaluation of this book is probably not totally fair, because Brooklyn is still fresh in my mind, and I love Brooklyn with
When comparing novels to short stories, a friend of mine recently told me that she doesn't need all the detail and story line of a novel. She just wants to meet different characters, like chatting with someone on a train ride where you get just a glimpse into their life on that day. I've never been a good short story reader - I'm always looking for the story arc, wondering what the points was, and why there was no obvious resolution. So now I'm trying to approach them differently. It's hard work ...more
I knew he wanted me to move the telescope, to focus now on Rosslare Harbour, on Tuskar Rock, on Raven Point, on the strand at Curracloe, agree with him that they could be seen so clearly even in this faded evening light. But what he showed me first had amazed me. The sight of the waves, miles out, their dutiful and frenetic solitude, their dull indifference to their fate, made me want to cry out, made me want to ask him if he could leave me alone for some time to take this in. I could hear him b ...more
I read this when I heard another Irish author calling it the greatest collection of short stories to come out of Ireland since Joyce's Dubliners. I realise now that he surely must have been having a laugh. Blimey! I don't think I have come across such tedious, insipid prose and as many clichés since first year uni. Toibin has a spare, light touch resulting in quiet, unassuming prose without bells, whistles, big bangs and ubiquitous twists. However, what he could achieve in that sense is greatly ...more
Some of the stories in this collection are as nearly perfect as a short story can be. Toibin has a powerful ability to render the raw emotion of love and loss in words which echo in the readers mind long after the book has been finished.
Based on the rave reviews, I expected to enjoy this story but was bored out my mind. Short stories are always a hit or miss for me, either all the stories are satisfying or it is forgettable. There are hardy any in between ratings, this in particular was dry and mundane. Not one story stood out to me, it was almost like the writer planted her boring thoughts on paper, hoping for the best. Either that or he audition for a movie with no prior acting experience, he just prayed that he will get the ...more
The Empty Family, a collection of stories by Colm Tóibín, demonstrates his emotional range within a consistently quiet and slow-moving narrative style. There's not a story here that isn't masterful in a controlled, minor-key kind of way, as befits the sensitivity and vulnerability of his characters.

These characters tend to be Irish women of heterosexual persuasion or Irish men of homosexual persuasion. Perhaps persuasion isn't the right word. They do what they do because they are who they are; n
Short stories are not my preferred fare but for Colm Tòibìn I make and exception - gladly! His spare language so full of feeling and understanding is, if anything, even more suited to these short pieces than to the already brilliant novels. In the nine stories that make up 'The Empty Family' he revisits his preferred places and themes: Barcelona Enniscorthy, Wexford, Dublin; the strangeness of the familiar, the familiarity of strangers, mothers and sons, displacement both geographical and of the ...more
Colm Tóibín has a breathtaking range, from the modern Irish voice in The Blackwater Lightship to Henry James's cultured and tortured 19th century tones in The Master to an immigrant naïf coming of age in 1950's Brooklyn. His writing is exquisite, resonant, and pure. He writes with incredible compassion for his characters, but allows them to fail of their own accord. He shows the reader the beauty of imperfection.

This latest collection of stories The Empty Family was a mixed bag for me. The theme
David Hallman
Melancholia - Tóibín’s, Pamuk’s, and Mine

Reading Colm Tóibín’s collection of short stories “The Empty Family”, I was reminded of Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk’s poignant evocation of his hometown in his part-history part-memoir entitled “Istanbul – Memories and the City.” The pervasive ethos throughout “Istanbul” is melancholy—for a lost childhood innocence, for a family diminished in its once prominent social standing, and for a city whose culture is but a shadow of its former grandeur.

There a
Read this book. It contains some of the most compelling and beautiful writing that I have read in years.

Although I typically am not a fan of short stories, I picked up The Empty Family because it was a 2012 Lambda Literary Award Winner for gay general fiction. Sadly, it sat on my shelf for months, as I repeatedly started and stopped the first story (Silence).

But once I arrived at the second (and title) story, I was hooked. These carefully crafted stories seem to amble along, subtly ensnaring yo
Ally Armistead
I can't remember the last time I was blown away by a short story collection, but Colm Toibin's "Empty Family" left me breathless, envious, inspired, and overjoyed to have found a writer whose stories are about something other than the fumbling of adolescence.

The stories, set in Dublin, Barcelona, and America, all capture moments of difficult intimacy: the desire, pain, and loss between men and women, men and men, men and their mothers and grandmothers, and women and their families. In each, Toib

I'm not an avid reader of short stories, they usually leave me unsatisfied, but I loved Brooklyn, Colm Toibin's award winning recent novel so I decided to try again. The Empty Family is a collection of nine short stories which are linked by the themes of exile, loneliness and family. Most of the protagonists find themselves in limbo-like situations, caught in a pivotal moment where the past and present collide, where home and belonging seem vague and elusive concepts.

All of the stories (whether
just come in at the library

Another Irish story collection (after Kevin Barry’s), just as good but very different. The writing here has a more sombre, formal approach, dead right for such a Henry James devotee. In fact one of the stories is inspired by an incident related in Henry James' notebook ('Silence'). Most of them though are about growing up gay in Ireland in the 60s/70s and the problems encountered, mostly with family members (particularly mothers). However there are a couple of stories
Rachelle Urist
I love reading Colm Toibin. (His name is pronounced Column Toe-BEAN. Just learned that.) Reading anything by him is like being enveloped in velvet, or in the softest cashmere in the world. It's soft, warm, and comforting. This book's short stories are infused with a gay sensibility. After reading CT's BROOKLYN, I assumed he was heterosexual. Then I read THE MASTER, discovered CT's fascination with Henry James, and now see that he's also written a non-fiction study of the master. BROOKLYN is thou ...more
Terri Jacobson
I really came under the spell of this collection of short stories. I like Colm Toibin's writing style very much. In beautiful language and imagery he writes about Ireland, about keeping secrets, and even about the art of dying well. One of the stories takes place in a senior care center, and I thought this was well-done and quite realistic. (As a nurse I practiced in long-term care for the last 10 years of my career.) The lyricism and the beauty of the writing in this collection are impressive; ...more
If the stories in this collection have one thing in common, it is solitude. Many on the protagonists are alone, perhaps they were once in a relationship, perhaps they just prefer it that way, yet there is an air of melancholy that seems to pervade each story.

Many of the stories feature a central gay male character, and a few of the stories are explicit. The final story and the longest centres on a young Pakistani immigrant in Spain living in a closed community of fellow immigrants. It differs fr
Artūrs Lūsis
indeed, a well penned, both enjoyable and entertaining, read, yet somehow this short story collection doesn't reach the deepest unseen depths (as with ''The Master'' or ''The Blackwater Lightship''), as well as slightly lacks narrative lucidity in its search for meaningful interpretations of themes such as love, loss, regret, angst, fear, ambition, and all that has to be sacrificed due to these deepest of human emotion.

what confused me most was the almost abrupt and obvious switch in sub-genre c
Full Stop

Review by Amanda Shubert

“Silence,” the first piece in Colm Tóibín’s most recent collection of short stories The Empty Family, invents a source for an anecdote told to Henry James by the Irish poet and dramatist Lady Gregory at a dinner party, and preserved in James’ notebook. In Tóibín’s handling, the story-within-the-story becomes a veiled reference to Lady Gregory’s love affair with the writer Wilfred Scawen Blunt, an experience she can only communicate
Clay Brown
Colm Toibin’s The Empty Family winner of the 24th Lambda Award (2012) for Best Gay Novel.

Is a beguiling discovery understated and sometimes even a bit droll but never dull, there are some interesting stories here in this collection of shorts.

His first tale is called Silence, about a now aged dowager who recounts a fling with a young man during an adulterous affair while married to an older man who is an English Noble. The catch is that she meets writer Henry James. Mr. Toibin’s The Master was a
Nine stories - some which I enjoyed immensely, some others which I didn't feel a personal connection with but felt they were nevertheless accomplished, and only one I found rather weak. I'd known Toibin's name for years, recalled when he made a big splash with his novel 'The Master', but am only now familiar with his work. I figured I'd go in slow with shorter stories. Perhaps 'The Empty Family' isn't enough yet for me to get a real feeling for his work. But I especially enjoyed: 'Two Women' - w ...more
Frances Sawaya
The range in this collection went from outstanding to boring, ergo a 3-star rating. The most consistent mood seemed to be of loneliness or alienation, and it became wearing, at least to me. So many strong quotes but there was one which stood out, 'the future is a foreign country; they do everything differently there.' Mulled over that one for quite a time. I was also moved by this excerpt, '...she often wondered if there was a difference between her life now and the years stretching to eternity ...more
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(From the authors website - )
"Colm Toibin was born in Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford in 1955. He studied at University College Dublin and lived in Barcelona between 1975 and 1978. Out of his experience in Barcelona be produced two books, the novel ‘The South’ (shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel Award and winner of the Irish Times/ Aer Lingus First Fiction
More about Colm Tóibín...
Brooklyn The Testament of Mary The Master Nora Webster The Blackwater Lightship

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“She was lonely without Blunt, but she was lonelier at the idea that the world went on as though she had not loved him.” 11 likes
“We had used up all of our time. And I wondered if that made any difference to my mother then, as she lay awake in the hospital those last few nights of her life: we had used up all of our time.” 4 likes
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