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The South

3.58  ·  Rating Details ·  815 Ratings  ·  100 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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(showing 1-30)
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Barry Pierce
Even in Tóibín’s first novel he has already set out the tropes (I’m using that word in the kindest terms) that have made his novels such staples of modern Irish literature. We have a woman in distress, Katherine, who’s exiled herself to Barcelona in order to forget her past in Ireland. A keen painter, Katherine is content with her new life until she meets a man one day and her past finally catches up with her. Reading Tóibín’s trademark filigree prose always reminds me of standing before one of ...more
Jun 16, 2012 Ben rated it liked it
A thought experiment. 1) Take a Hemingway novel, one of the ones 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."
Mar 23, 2010 Danielle rated it it was ok
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
Ellie M
Apr 21, 2016 Ellie M rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, 2016-grc, 2016
My third Toibin book and probably the most difficult to read when compared to Brooklyn and Nora Webster.

Katherine is a protestant woman from Ireland who escapes her unhappy marriage to live in Spain. It is the time of Franco and Catalonian forces battling for power and she arrives in Barcelona, Catalonian Spain looking for a place to be herself. She takes up painting and mixes with the artistic community and forms a relationship with Miguel as well as an Irish man called Micheal. Miguel has an
When your first Toibin book is Brooklyn the bar is set pretty high for others. I thought this one was truly "Ok". Those two little letters pretty much summed up my reaction as I read the story. Perhaps my world view is a bit skewed in this post "Eat, Pray, Love" era and I was expecting some glorious life epiphany to happen to the main character when she fled her unfulfilled married life (husband and son) in Ireland to paint in Spain. Katherine finds a man that she follows through Spain and lives ...more
Sandra Lawson
Aug 28, 2011 Sandra Lawson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 23, 2010 Teresa rated it liked it
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
Dec 02, 2015 Debbie rated it liked it
Read Brooklyn recently and LOVED it. This one, not as much.

While I loved the characters in Brooklyn, I found it difficult to like any of the characters in this. Katherine seemed very narcissistic and none of the other characters were much better.

Maybe because they were all artists and all had the "woe is me" attitude, but I found them not nearly as interesting as those in Brooklyn.

May 10, 2016 Fence rated it liked it
In 1950, Katherine Proctor leaves Ireland and her family for Barcelona, determined to become a painter. There she meets Miguel, an anarchist veteran of the Spanish Civil War, and proceeds to build a life with him. But Katherine cannot escape her past, as Michael Graves, a fellow Irish emigre to Spain, forces her to re-examine all her relationships: to her lover, her art and the homeland she only thought she knew.

I first read this book in 2004, although when it was selected for my book club I cou

Mar 19, 2011 Jay rated it liked it
“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”.

Rosemary Reilly
Another novel selected at almost random on my current spree of reading a variety of unconnected famous novels.
The prose is simple and understated yet very artful.
I can't decide what my opinion on the protagonist, Katherine, is. The way the book is written, she feels passive; yet when I consider objectively the decisions she makes in the novel, they seem anything but passive. Or at least, the leaving of Ireland, the big trigger of the novel, is anything but passive. Toibin never explains her mo
Feb 17, 2014 Meg rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-2014
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
Catherine Siemann
Jun 27, 2009 Catherine Siemann rated it it was amazing
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.
Jun 29, 2013 Rachel rated it liked it
Understated and kind of melancholy. A woman leaves her husband and child to live in Spain, then falls in love again and studies painting, and returns to Ireland in her old age. I didn't really like or dislike it.
Feb 08, 2014 Olivia rated it it was ok
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.
It has an appeal to the theme of changing one's life. However, I couldn't relate with the decisions made by the two main characters. Ultimately, it made me think.
Oct 12, 2009 Hal rated it liked it
Beautifully atmospheric, but I just couldn't get involved, whether due to unsympathetic characters or non-suspenseful plot or whatever.
This was definitely okay enough for me to try Brooklyn.
Oct 29, 2016 Trev rated it it was ok
Didn't think much of this book. The story is not that interesting and the way it is written with lots of short factual sentences makes it seem like a very unimaginative.

It is the first book I have read on Colm Toibin after I heard he was a good writer. Hopefully his later novels are better.
Aug 19, 2009 Rick rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
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
Nov 01, 2010 Agatha rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
3.5/5 The second reading is better. Perhaps it is because I get more used to Toibin's elliptical writing and paid more attention to some small yet revealing details in the book. I think Katherine, Miguel and Michael are all the "victims of the past"; after all, we are made of the lives before us, and it can cost a lot to break away from the past. Also, the public and the private is certainly not clearly divided, the historical events can cast much longer and deeper shadows than we have expected.
Sep 19, 2016 Shirley rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Toibin's writing reminds me of an Ernest Hemingway ... in Ireland.
Aug 30, 2008 Nick rated it really liked it  ·  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
Ross McMeekin
Jun 11, 2014 Ross McMeekin rated it really liked it
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
Mar 17, 2013 Julie rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013-reads, fiction
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.
Nicole Craigmiles
May 29, 2013 Nicole Craigmiles rated it really liked it
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
Eveline Chao
Mar 15, 2015 Eveline Chao rated it it was amazing
Story of a solitude-loving female painter who lives in Spain but eventually returns home to Ireland, about which she has mixed feelings. (Side note, she's from a wealthy Protestant family; Toibin is Catholic.) Follows her from mid-thirties to middle/oldish age, and examines her relationships to art, to religion, to husbands, lovers, and would-be lovers around her, to her mother and children, and to her country. Very clear, simple writing - there are long stretches that feel a lot like Hemingway, ...more
Jun 26, 2010 Fence rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical
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
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
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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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“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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