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New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers and Their Families

3.44  ·  Rating Details ·  227 Ratings  ·  55 Reviews
In a brilliant, nuanced and wholly original collection of essays, the novelist and critic Colm Tóibín explores the relationships of writers to their families and their work.

From Jane Austen’s aunts to Tennessee Williams’s mentally ill sister, the impact of intimate family dynamics can be seen in many of literature’s greatest works. Tóibín, celebrated both for his award-wi
ebook, 352 pages
Published June 12th 2012 by Scribner (first published January 1st 2012)
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Moira Russell
Realized too late that instead of an interconnected narrative, this is a book of essays - most published in the LRB, the NYRB, and the Dublin Review - loosely organized around a sort of guiding aesthetic about how artists use and are formed by their family dynamics. "Loosely" is the appropriate word. This is sort of like The Anxiety of Influence with the theory left out, which you would think might be a more pleasant experience than reading this fix-up actually is; the pleasure in reading carefu ...more
Jun 13, 2012 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: readers of quality books
Recommended to John by: New York Times reviews
First things first: author Colm Tóibín's New Ways to Kill Your Mother is no lightweight, frothy summer beach read, so be prepared for that. He's an Irish novelist, essayist, journalist, critic, short story writer, playwright, and more recently, a poet. Described recently as an "old-fashioned literary man o' war," he is generally regarded by those familiar with his works as having outclassed many at the various literary forms in which he has delved.

Though the title might suggest a manual about
In this rather anarchic, rambling collection of literary commentary, CT proves himself once again a master of the gab. I amazed myself by finding interest in anecdotes concerning authors I quite dislike, and works Ive previously considered boring. Adverse as I am to games such as trivial pursuit, I have to admit there lurks in me a love a certain kind of gossip, the kind about literary feuds and old muses. Its quite fascinating (although sometimes appalling) to read about the families of great a ...more
Mar 26, 2013 Marleen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In this fascinating book, Colm Tóibín sets out to show how their families influenced the work of various authors. Divided into two sections he first concentrates on Irish authors: W.B. Yeats, J.M. Synge, Samuel Beckett, Brian Moore, Sebastian Barry, Roddy Doyle and Hugo Hamilton. The second part of the book, called ‘Elsewhere’ gives us glimpses of the lives and families of Thomas Mann, Jorge Luis Borges, Hart Crane, Tennessee Williams, John Cheever, James Baldwin and finally Barack Obama, a man ...more
Jenny Tipping
I was drawn to this book by the write-up in the Guardian review a couple of weeks ago and by the title. Although it is a pleasant read, the mismatch between the title and the book and some confusion about what the book actually is, made the overall experience a bit disappointing.

Essentially it is a collection of essays of literary criticism, loosely linked by the subject of writers and their families. It particularly, but not exclusively, concentrates on family relationships that writers have so
Mar 06, 2014 Jessica marked it as aborted-efforts  ·  review of another edition
Seeing Colm Tóibín read was a bright spot in an otherwise underwhelming trip to Seattle. He's hilarious! And brilliant! I'm a sucker for that.

Never read anything by him, but remembered that my mom had given me this book and resolved to check it out once I got home.


I read about half of this, and enjoyed it so much that I forgot to notice that I'm not especially interested in its topic, which seemed to be the lives of various Irish writers. Then I remembered, set the book down on my nightstand,
Jan 20, 2012 Susan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a fascinating account of authors and the importance of the family in their life and literature. It is split into two parts - Ireland and Everywhere Else. It begins with an essay on the Death of the Mother in novels of the late eighteenth century and the aunt figure in novels by authors such as Jane Austen and Henry James.

The section on Ireland looks at the relationship between W.B. Yeats and the humiliating letters from his father trying to promote his own literary endeavours, John Synge
B. Morrison
Nov 23, 2012 B. Morrison rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When I heard the title of this book mentioned during Tóibín's appearance at a local college last week, I knew I had to have it. I first encountered his work at a used tool and book sale in a small market town in the Midlands. Rows of long tables filled the town hall, stacked with old saber saws and wrenches, as well as piles of well-thumbed books. I picked up a copy of _The Heather Blazing_, intrigued by the title, and devoured it that night. I liked it so much that I made my book club read it, ...more
Sep 07, 2013 Ci rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Tentatively, I put this book on "read" shelf even though I promised myself to return to it in later time when I have read the other authors he analyzed. My range of literary reading is not broad enough to make use of several of his essays.

I am very impressed and instructed by his analysis of the role aunts played in Jane Austen and Henry James' novels. They were plot devices that I did not quite notice, except when they obviously facilitate or impede the heroines or heroes's actions. Mr. Toibin
Mar 19, 2012 Kelly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I chose this purely because I have read Colm Toibins work before and enjoyed it, although his other books I have read have been works of fiction.
This is more a collection of essays about the intricacies of the family relationships and how it has impacted the literature of different authors.
I enjoyed delving in to each authors life and learning a little more about them and how these relationships shaped them as a person and shaped there work.
Split in to parts the book allows you read it the whole
So this book is a collection of essays about writers, their own family relationships and the affect that this had on their writing.

It was a pretty solid collection and I think it's testament to Tóibín's writing that even the essays about writers whose works I had not read I found engaging. I only got the book out because I wanted to read the essays about Jane Austen and James Baldwin (I am ever predictable I know), but I ended up reading the whole book and I'm really glad I did.

(also it was v g
This one's definitely for English majors, but I enjoyed dipping into it each night. Some of the essays are better than others, but their was something interesting in even the lesser ones. What I would have liked is a unifying introduction to these pieces about the influence of family--nuclear and extended--on the likes of Yeats, Mann, Borges, Doyle, Singe, James, Cheever, Beckett, Tennessee Williams and Baldwin (everyone's white except for the latter and not a woman among them) and others and th ...more
Susan Swan
Thoughtful essays about the way over a dozen well known writers interacted with their families. Toibin starts by saying the mother is killed off in most fiction in order to give the protagonist more space for agency. Then he discusses a lot of Irish writers but strangely enough for such a generous critic, he omits any famous women from his individual case studies including the talented Irish novelist Edna O'Brien. Disappointing.
Jul 12, 2012 Ruth rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Focusing especially on the relationships between fathers as sons (rather than mothers, as the title indicates), Toibin makes a strong case for the symbiotic nature of the families of great writers and the works that those writers produced. Fascinating stuff, especially for those well read in literature.
Carole Yeaman
Toibin, Toibin, Toibin -- you are very consistant -- you never fail to disappoint me. This time it was really over the top. A MOST enticing Title, (one that has absolutely NO relevence to this book); and simply a pastiche of other published writings - à la Kitty Kelley.
Jan 16, 2013 Elle rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
You think with a name like that it would be damn hard to be so boring but he finds a way don't worry
Dec 31, 2015 Mike rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Colm Tóibín has pulled together lectures and articles he has written that mostly connect to the way in which writers and their families affect each other. The families (and often the writers themselves) turn out to be a strongly dysfunctional bunch.

The killing of the mother (or father, in some cases) is also a theme, but not one with any reality here except in literary terms. In the opening chapter, which stands alone in the book (and might have been better sandwiched between the other two major
Feb 06, 2012 Bonnie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Maybe this is not the Toibin book I should’ve started with. I’m not even sure what the point of this book is. It’s supposedly about “writers and their families” and I suppose that would mean how a writer’s family shaped their work, especially parental influence. Yeah, that is not what this is about. It’s basically a collection of mini-biographies concentrating on writer’s adult lives. Some are interesting. Some are not.

How Toibin chose the authors to write about is entirely a mystery, since he
This is a scholarly, literary critique of a handful of authors who had issues with their mothers. However, the title (New Ways to Kill Your Mother) suggested (to me) that it would take the perspective of how the act of writing about one's mother alters or affects that relationship. (And perhaps this says more about me than the author...)

As it turns out, Toibin's focus has nothing to do with how the mother perceived or was affected by the works of their child. No, it has more to do with how the a
Murray Ewing
May 08, 2015 Murray Ewing rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: criticism, biography
New Ways to Kill Your Mother collects some of Colm Tóibín’s biographical essays about writers, including Henry James, W B Yeats, Synge, Beckett, Thomas Mann, Borges, Hart Crane, Tennessee Williams, John Cheever and James Baldwin, focusing (as that attention-grabbing title suggests) on familial relations. And not just maternal ones. The opening essay, which I found the best in the book, “Jane Austen, Henry James and the Death of the Mother” explores the uses of aunts in literature, and surprised ...more
Jan 07, 2015 Ellen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Much of the focus in the essays are, not surprisingly, about Irish authors and their relationships with their families, not only those with their mothers. Toibin is Irish himself, and his novels reflect his own life growing up in his neighborhood with his parents and siblings. This is not an easily accessible book; the writing is at times quite "deep" and a bit turgid, but Toibin knows his literature without doubt.

Especially enjoyable were his longer essays about James Joyce, William Butler Yeat
the introductory essay on jane austen is excellent. i know her novels well and this essay has given me a new perspective on them. wow. and all of the subsequent chapters/essay on highly respected authors and their families (not just the moms: fathers, sons, daughters, siblings, even uncles and aunts all get equal time) are informative. families matter. and from this well-written book, the reader clearly comes to see how much of an impact the neurosis of each writer and particular family members ...more
Susan Lanigan
Jul 15, 2014 Susan Lanigan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Loved this book for the most part - very dense enquiry into messed up writers and their parents, siblings etc, slightly dwelling more on the male writers than the female (opportunity missed for Edna O'Brien, I think) Was amazed to read what I did about Thomas Mann's family, he was this odious paterfamilias who renounced Nazism relatively late while his son Klaus and overbearing daughter Erika both stood up to him and behaved quite courageously, even though poor Klaus never really broke free and ...more
B Johnson
Jul 26, 2015 B Johnson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: about-books
Colm Toibin’s New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers and their Families is a compilation of linked essays on the role of various family members in novels ranging from Jane Austen, Henry James, Beckett, Roddy Doyle, John Cheever to James Baldwin and Barack Obama. I am a great fan of Toibin as one of the best of the Irish authors and I thoroughly enjoyed The Master (winner of numerous literary awards) and his brilliant Brooklyn. But he is also an accomplished professor and literary critic who remin ...more
Good close reading of the characters of mothers and their offspring in some “recent” writing, starting with Jane Austen. But don’t get too committed, because a novel is not meant to be enjoyed as a moral tale, viz:

“The novel is not a moral fable or a tale from the Bible, or an exploration of the individual’s role in society; it is not our job to like or dislike characters in fiction, or make judgements on their worth, or learn from them how to live. …. A novel is a pattern and it is our job to r
Kate Brown
Jun 30, 2013 Kate Brown rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Many times reading 'New Ways To Kill Your Mother' I thought of Larkin's famous quote about your Mum and Dad. Colm Tóibín goes further - he embraces extended families in this engaging exploration of the domestic lives of writers as diverse as Austen, James, Yeats, Cheever and Borges, bringing us right up to date with Obama. From wayward aunts to too-close siblings, this collection casts a light into the shadows of some of our greatest writers' lives. I loved it - though it is drawn from his acade ...more
Jun 19, 2012 Crystal rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Interesting. Covering writers from different shores and from vastly different worldviews, Toibin examines the families, the quirks, the politics, and sexual behaviors of writers like Borges, John Cheever, Samuel Beckett, Tennessee Williams, and James Baldwin. I was impressed at how Toibin was able to paint so many detailed portraits of these writers lives in so few pages. There were certainly a few snooze sessions for writers I wasn't particularly interested in, but there's no harm in skipping a ...more
This definitely deserves I higher rating than most people are giving it. I think Colm Toibin writes best when he is writing biography. I have just finished a piece on Oscar Wilde he wrote and it's superb, plenty of references and written with a keen sense of the essence of the writers and what they meant. I think we can all agree that the title of this book is poor and not self explanatory. This is a collection of Toibin's essays on writers and their relationships to their families. The Mann fam ...more
Nov 10, 2016 Laura rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
If you're already interested in the writers Toibin discusses, you'll find this to be a well-written and fascinating analysis of them. If you're not, however, it's difficult to become interested. Toibin clearly enjoys exploring these writers and while the overall theme is examined from nuanced angles, I wanted more analysis and insight to tie all the chapters together. Sometimes it felt like Toibin was just describing relationships that interested him rather than connoting fresh insight into the ...more
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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 Award) and ‘Homage to Barcelona’, both published in 1990. When he retur ...more
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