The South
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The South

3.52 of 5 stars 3.52  ·  rating details  ·  362 ratings  ·  50 reviews
Set in the 1950s, this is the story of Katherine Proctor who "flees husband, child and County Wexford (Ireland) for Spain. She, a Catalan lover, and another Irish emigre, painters all, fashion new worlds in their work while fighting past worlds in their lives." (Library Journal)
Paperback, 240 pages
Published October 1st 1992 by Penguin Books (first published 1990)
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Sandra Lawson
I read my first Colm Toibin novel (Brooklyn) a few months ago and am a complete convert. The South was his first published fictional novel and he shows many of the concerns of his later work in this earlier one. There is a female protagonist, there are life changes, displacements and moves away from, and back to, home. Enniscorthy features again and helps Katherine Proctor reach conclusions about her life, as well as being a place where she renews relationships. Katherine travels, physically and...more
“The South” is Colm Tóibín’s first novel, published in 1990 when he was 35. It traces Katherine Procter from her flight from Ireland in 1950 to her eventual reconciliation with her own demons in 1972. In the years in between, she finds love with a Catalan anarchist in the remote reaches of the Spanish Pyrenees. The novel’s themes—exile, solitude, apartness, loss and death—are the very ones that will occupy Tóibín starting with this novel and including his most recent work, “The Empty Family”.

It was interesting to see how themes in this novel, Toibin's first, are ones that were developed to much greater effect in his later works. (Henry James and the Blackwater lightship even get glancing mentions here.)

I wonder if I'd read this Toibin first, if I would've gone on to read more by him on my own. Maybe not. Or perhaps it's just that I've been spoiled by his later works that I feel this way now. Because while there are sections in this novel that grabbed me momentarily, I never felt pu...more
Ross McMeekin
I found much to appreciate about Colm Toibin's debut novel The South--the first book of his I've read. The book explored themes of abandonment both of family and of country, but didn't do so with a heavy hand. The authorial presence of Mr. Toibin was light, and most of the larger movements and parallels were implied in such a way that I didn't notice them until after putting the book down. I think another way of saying this is that Toibin's stayed so tight and true to Katherine Porter's perspect...more
Catherine Siemann
Lovely, minimalist writing, and in the end, quite moving. The South is the story of Katherine Proctor, who flees her husband and her Irish home for Spain, where she becomes a painter and the lover of an anti-Franco artist named Miguel. Spanning several decades of Katherine's life, the novel traces both small moments and large-scale political happenings, and shows their impact on human lives.
Well written story about love and regret.

Katherine Procter is married to Tom and has a little boy Richard. They live on her family's farm in Ireland. They are Protestants. One day in 1950 she leaves everything behind including Tom and Richard. Eventually she travels to Barcelona, Spain. She meets Miguel and moves in with him. He fought with the Republicans against Franco in the Spanish Civil war and is occasionally questioned by the authorities. She also meets another Irish expat, Michael Graves...more
This sounded like an interesting quasi-companion piece to the Heather Blazing, which I loved, but no. I failed to connect with this one in any way, shape or form, and frankly skimmed most of it. I was about to drop it when I reached the first chapter set in Ireland, which peaked my interest. The Ireland chapters were really the only interesting parts. The main character had in her favor that she was the same generation as my grandmother. That she was a land rich protestant wasn't an issue. Her b...more
Sue Lyle
I loved this book. THe prose is beautiful, he paints on the page and brings landscape and sense of place to life. Central character, Katherine leaves her husband and 10 year old son in Ireland and escapes to Barcelona. The book is so moving but quiet and still and somehow unfinished like many of the paintings of the protagonists. Immensely sad and uplifting at the same time, like a really powerful painting. The author clearly loves the landscapes of Catalonia and Ireland and creates the enormity...more
This was definitely okay enough for me to try Brooklyn.
I enjoyed this novel quite a bit, while I didn't love it, I did find myself reading it all in pretty much one sitting. While I did have a few problems with it, overall it was a nice read.

I did find there were a lot more slow parts, more than I would have liked. There were a few times, I wanted the story to push forward and felt few interactions between characters were becoming redundant. But overall, I think for the author did a great job at taking the readers on a journey with the characters....more
Aug 30, 2008 Nick rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Nick by: Eileen
Shelves: fiction
For far too long, lovers of the visual arts have been able to claim superiority over literature lovers with the phrase "A picture paints a thousand words". This book is sweet revenge. Apart from the fact that painting a picture takes a hell of a lot longer than writing a thousand words, it seems we do not actually need a thousand words to describe a picture. In 'The South' Toibin presents us with the essences of a range of paintings in a cariety of artistic styles with an economy of expression t...more
Colm Tóibín has recently been in the news for his new book, The Master which tells the story of Henry James, and is supposedly very good. I haven’t read it, so I don’t know :) But the publicity did encourage me to pick this book up when I spotted it in the library

His first novel, it tells the story of Katherine Procter who leaves her life in Ireland for Spain, leaving behind her husband and son as well as Enniscorthy. In Spain she finds romance, and a new life as an artist, but is constantly hau...more
Toibin’s first novel, published in 1990, is a story of an Irish artist in self-exile in 1950s Spain, told in crisp, stoical prose that nonetheless achieves a stark, insightful beauty. Katherine Proctor leaves her husband and son to go to Barcelona where she takes up with a Catalan painter and a former resistance figther against Franco. Toibin, an Irish writer, knows Spain well enough not to overburden his story with postcard descriptions or name dropped landmarks and is skilled enough to make hi...more
Nicole Craigmiles
Colm Toibin's "The South" is about Katherine Proctor, a woman who is coming into her own in the 1950's. She abandons her husband and child after she learns the type of man she married and thinks her son is just a miniature version of him. She leaves Ireland and heads to Barcelona to begin her new life. She came from a wealthy Protestant family and her mother supported her while she led an artistic life in the Pyrenees with her Spanish revolutionary lover.

Throughout the story Katherine isolates h...more
Colm Toibin is actually coming to speak at the library where I work in a few weeks so I am trying to make it through some of his works before the event. I read The Master years ago, but am trying to read some of his other works as well. The South takes places during the 1950s and 1960s in Ireland and Spain. The story follows a woman named Katherine who leaves her husband and 10 year old son and moves to Barcelona where she meets a fellow artist named Miguel who she quickly develops a lasting rel...more
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This was Colm Toibin,s first novel. I had read The Master and Brooklyn. Wish I had read The South first as it told me what a great writer he was.
It was a succinct and sparse novel that showed how one can change the course of their lives, still have fiery romance. There are consequences of course but reading a Toibin novel is similar to the finish of a great painting. He is a great writer
It was an interesting read, though I'm still trying to develop an opinion of it. The South was completely different from the books I typically read, but I still found it interesting. It is definitely not for very young readers, that's for sure.
Her Royal Orangeness
“The South” tells the story of Katherine Proctor who flees an unhappy marriage and the political turmoil of 1950s Ireland. She relocates to Barcelona, Spain where she once again finds herself in an unfulfilling relationship and affected by the political unrest of a country.

I never felt captivated by the story, and I felt no interest in or empathy for the protagonist. The chronology is messy, and Tóibín writes in a very sparse manner that nearly defies all the rules of grammar. There are glimpse...more
This book took turns that left me a little bit lost. It was more depressing than I was ready for, didn't hook me at all. I know it wasn't attempting to be a "grabber" but I just didn't enjoy reading it. The descriptions though were fantastic and really put you in the scene.
I didn't like this as much as Brooklyn, so if you are interested in reading some of TOibin's work, I wouldn't recommend starting with this one. The South follows a young woman who abandons her family in Ireland and takes up with a man in Barcelona. We watch as she essentially gets herself tangled up in a very similarly dissatisfying life as the one that she left. Only at the very end of the book (as she is much older) does she finally seem to find herself and feel some contentment.

I must confes...more
Sometimes I find myself in the mood for writing like Colm Toibin. His prose is quick and succinct. Not a ton of flowery language, not a ton of in depth character analysis, just good solid writing that's there and does its job well. A few things I liked -- the travel aspect (Ireland to Spain, oh boy), the art aspect, the sexual chemistry aspect, the history aspect (post WW2 Spain, Franco times). It's quick too -- a mere 200 pages that fly by in the blink of an eye yet leave you with something.
Anything Colm Toibin writes is worth reading, but this, his first of many excellent novels was perfect without an erasable word and he tells a fascinating story about relationships and human frailty.
A thought experiment. 1) Take a Hemingway novel, one of the one's where ex-pats hang out and do crazy stuff in Europe. 2) Make the protagonist a woman. 3) Make the person whose sense of identity is largely lost because of a war not the protagonist but the protagonist's lover (although the protagonist here certainly had a significant brush with violence in childhood). That, approximately, is "The South."
Toibin's debut novel stakes out his future literary territory with grace, restraint and power. Many of his future recurring themes are here. A homecoming, parent/child relationships, religion, Spain and, of course, Ireland. It's a sparse, controlled novel with a cumulative power. As much about what people don't say as what they do.
In the 1950s, a woman leaves Ireland and her husband and child and flees to Barcelona; she intends to become a painter. She meets a painter who is an anarchist and a veteran of the Spanish Civil War. They become lovers. Life unfolds over decades. This is an unsentimental story, nicely written.
Sharon Hollis
For a first novel this is fantastic but not Toibin's best. I enjoyed the tale of Katherine Proctor and the way she slowly and gently comes to term with her past decisions. It was also interesting to see how themes that Toibin explores in later novels and short stories were here in this first novel.
Planning a trip to Spain, I wanted to find some literature and this was recommended.
Set between Ireland and Catalunya, the book conjured up good visual images of both. I enjoyed it, although I would happily have thrown most of the characters out of the preverbial lifeboat given the choice.
Colm Toibin writes of a young woman dissatified with her marriage, who leaves husband and child to live and paint in Spain. Her life in Spain is not idyllic and eventually she returns to Ireland. During the entire book there are wonderful descriptions of her paintings.
Greta Roussos
Loved the travel to and through the Pyrenees, brought back good memories of traveling in this area in 1976. Difficult to grasp why this young woman would abandon her only child and will need to think more about how her solitary travel was so essential to her well-being.
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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
More about Colm Tóibín...
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“There will always be reservations, things one must leave out, events one can’t explain without handing over a full map of one’s life, unfolding it, making clear that all the lines and contours stand for long days and nights when things were bad or good, or when things were too small to be described at all: when things just were. This is a life.” 1 likes
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