The Blackwater Lightship
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The Blackwater Lightship

3.83 of 5 stars 3.83  ·  rating details  ·  2,462 ratings  ·  228 reviews

It is Ireland in the early 1990s. Helen, her mother, Lily, and her grandmother, Dora have come together to tend to Helen's brother, Declan, who is dying of AIDS. With Declan's two friends, the six of them are forced to plumb the shoals of their own histories and to come to terms with each other.

Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, The Blackwater Lightship is a deeply reson

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Paperback, 288 pages
Published June 5th 2005 by Scribner (first published 1999)
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Jay
There are three contemporary authors writing in English whom I find extraordinarily engaging: Cormac McCarthy, Tim Winton and Colm Tóibín . They are all stylistically brilliant and all three weave worlds that address significant issues regarding the human condition. All, also, have received significant recognition for the quality of their production. Among that recognition, McCarthy by Pulitzer; Winton and Tóibín , by Man Booker.

Cormac McCarthy’s writing is probably the more unconventional. He i...more
Wealhtheow
Jun 19, 2012 Wealhtheow rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of low-scale family drama and tragedy
Recommended to Wealhtheow by: Dana
Helen lives a predictable, pleasant life, until suddenly a stranger turns up and tells her that her brother is sick--is, in fact, dying of AIDS in a nearby hospital. Declan wants to stay in their grandmother's cottage while he recuperates from his latest hospital stay. His sister, mother, and grandmother are thus thrown together in a small sea-shore cottage, forced into close quarters after a decade of estrangement. Two of his friends come to keep him company and look after his health, causing f...more
Betsy McTiernan
After Brooklyn and Testament of Mary, Toibin is at the top of my list of feminist writers. This novel focuses on a family and friends brought together by impending death. Helen's brother, Declan, is dying of Aids. He decides he wants to spend a few days at his maternal grandmother's house with Helen, his mother and a couple of friends. Helen has been estranged from her mother and grandmother for over a decade, and Declan had never come out to his family. This big secret bursts out of the closet,...more
Michael
An understated account of how a broken family begins to heal itself in the context of the return of a son dying of AIDS.

Helen, a teacher in the Dublin area, helps install her beloved brother Declan into the care of her mother and grandmother in a seashore village in southeastern Ireland. The occasion makes her deal with the nearly decade-long estrangement dating from the time when her father got cancer and her mother effectively took him away from her and her brother during his months of illnes...more
Suzanne
The Blackwater Lightship came highly recommended to me. I'm not sure why. It is the story of three generations of angry women. They are cold and hard on the outside. On the inside they are seething. If you go even deeper, they are loving mothers.
In contrast, the Irish men are loving, playful, nurturing, able to take command, but not bossy. They are also loyal and just plain nice.
Helen, one of the main characters, lives in Dublin, which like any city is bustling. It's inhabitants are cosmopolitan...more
Trevor
It is very difficult to find fault with a book like this. The writing is beautiful, being elegant, restrained, sparse and poetic all at once. In fact Colm Toibin says more in one of his perfectly formed precise sentences, than most other authors can say in whole paragraphs.

This is the story of a family that has grown apart over the years, and that is reluctantly brought back together again by a single event. Is not a new premise for a novel, but in Colm’s writing a fresh light is shone on it and...more
Yulia
This beautiful novel chronicles a week in the lives of its characters as they try to comfort their mutual connection, Declan, a man in his late 20s dying of AIDS and running out of time to see long-standing conflicts be put aside between his sister, mother and grandmother, all of whom are estranged from one other for over a decade because of reasons even they cannot quite articulate or understand. Aided by two friends who've been looking after him long before his family suspected anything was wr...more
Pat
I can't say i liked this book. I felt irritated with the women. I thought some of the most interesting characters made their appearance at the beginning at a party and never came back.

As a study of mother-daughter relations over generations it seemed over simplistic.

I felt outside of all the characters especially Declin, woh was pivotal to the reunion.

The beginning captured me, then I felt let down. Maybe I am missing something.
Martha
This is is a clear- eyed, beautiful book. Toibin never tries too hard. His characters reveal themselves in conversation that is pitch perfect. The difficult parts of living and dying are not side stepped, but there is humor too because this is about family and all the messiness that entails.
Carol
Not a good idea to finish the last 20 pages of this story at 5:00 AM before work! I'm wrecked and I look like hell. The novel was wondrous - I loved it and I'll review later.
Paul
Jun 12, 2013 Paul rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2013
Fairly disappointing. The jacket copy describes Tóibín's prose multiple times as "spare," which I realized can actually just mean flat. Not to say he's not a good writer, per se, but I don't know that spareness is an excuse for being uninteresting. The language here is purely a vehicle for plot, which is fine, if you're into plot, but I'd like at least a little flair, a little beauty in the sentences. The pacing was also really strange—scenes end on a line of dialogue like a bad film edit, and o...more
Liz (Consumed by Books)
The Blackwater Lightship is a story that any reader can relate to. This is my first book by Colm Toibin and I definitely plan on checking out more by him. I've come out of this book not only feeling impressed, but as though I know the characters.

Toibin creates a solid plot which feels realistic and well-constructed. Themes of family and friendship play a major role in this novel when Declan, the brother of the main character Helen, becomes sick with AIDS and the struggle brings together three ge...more
Frank Parker
Short listed for the Booker back in 1999 this is one I probably ought to have read a long time ago. Now that I finally have done so I have to say it is easily the best book I have read in a very long time (and, if you are following my reviews you will know I've read a number of good books in recent months!).
It explores the differences between three generations of women in Ireland in the early 1990s. The way in which miss-understandings and unfulfilled parental expectations can lead to alienation...more
Betty
I love Toiobin's writing, and have read both Blackwater Lightship and The Master once for the story and again for the language. Saw this in Time: (interviewer) Why do lapsed Catholics seem to make good writers?

(Toibin) The Word somehow remains - the beauty of the Word. Honestly, from the age of 7, at boys'benediction, they would lower the lights of the cathedral and say, "Death comes soon and judgement will follow, so now, dear children, examine your conscience and find out your sins." And you...more
Susan
This is a family story: a grandmother and a mother (both widowed) and the two grown children of the latter come together after years of misunderstanding and estrangement, in the house of the grandmother on a cliff by the sea in Southern Ireland (where the two lighthouses shine in on them nightly). A couple of friends of the son, who's just revealed that he has AIDS, join them. Each character is carefully drawn. The writing is exquisite. I couldn't put it down.
Jacquelynn Luben
Sometimes I ask myself what constitutes a good book. In analysing a book, I look at some of the things that are traditionally frowned upon at creative writing courses, for example, too many adverbs, and often quoted over and over again, as with the adage, show don’t tell. Certainly, this book falls down on the latter. As with Brooklyn, Colm Toibin does ‘tell’ a story in a rather old-fashioned way, though I wouldn’t necessarily hold that against him.

The author has chosen to show how three women o...more
Angela
Something about the way he writes really resonates with me - this is the way I would like to write myself. People without a patience for "quiet" writing might find it boring, though - there's lot of family drama in this novel, but that still doesn't change the fact that it's overall rather understated.
Padraic
No one writes like Colm Toibin. Don't let the Hallmark TV version scare you away either. It weren't half bad....
Gary
Nov 09, 2008 Gary added it
One of those life-affirming novels that leaves you depressed but glad to be alive. I think...
Elizabeth Quinn
This was my first book by Tóibín, and I quite liked it. It's a melancholy story about a fractured family that illustrates again what seems to be, contrary to the stereotypes held by many Americans, a pathological reticence in the Irish. In this story, the family's only male, Declan, is dying of AIDs, something that comes as news to his sister Helen, their mother Lily, and their grandmother. Helen and Lily have been estranged for years, but the family gathers, along with two of Declan's friends w...more
Layla Bing
The Blackwater Lightship is a difficult novel to describe in a few words. On the surface it tells the story of Helen, her estranged mother Lily, her grandmother, and her brother Declan whose revelation of his lifetime struggle with AIDS forces the family back under one roof for the first time in a decade. Underneath the harrowing and, at times, graphic descriptions of Declan's losing battle with the disease, there is an entire other story centered on communication, and particularly the breakdown...more
Cheree
Well drawn characters — sometimes unlikeable but always recognisable. Sparse writing creates space enough for rich story to develop. The relationships between three tough generations of women are examined and juxtaposed against the nurturing, loving relationship of the three male friends. In fact, all the male characters exhibit strong (shall we say) feminine traits.

Physically absent, but emotionally omnipresent is the character of the main protagonist’s father, characterised by the Blackwater L...more
Paul Cheney
Never heard of this author before, and this is the first book of his that I have read.

It is set in Ireland, and is centred around three estranged generations of the same family that are thrust back together as the son is close to death with AIDS. They decamp to the grandmothers house close to the sea with two of his friends, where they try to care for hims as his approaches the end of his life.

Helen, the main character, has had a terrible relationship with her mother after she felt completely ab...more
Autumn
The Blackwater Lightship is a lovely book. Set in Ireland in the early 1990s, it's the story of three women (Helen, Lily, and Dora), come together to care for their brother, son, and grandson (Declan) as he suffers perhaps the end of his struggle with AIDS. Along with two friends of Declan, the six of them spend the week together, telling stories of their lives and putting old demons to rest.

This sounds like a serious book, and it is. Matters of life, death, and especially family history, shape...more
yb
I decided to read this based on Toibin's short story in the Book of Other People. In fourteen painful, exquisite pages he created a character, a history, and a sense of loss that it would take most writers a novel to accomplish. And so in the space of a novel, he is able to explore fully the fractured relationship between three women - the protagonist, her mother, and her mother's mother - against the backdrop of her 30 year old brother's battle with AIDS. The characters are all deeply flawed an...more
Mary
Feb 12, 2012 Mary rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who enjoys contemporary fiction
Recommended to Mary by: Library Book Sale
This is the story of Helen Doherty and her family. Helen is told that her brother Declan is in the hospital and needs to see her. She and her brother go to their grandmother's delapidated guest house with his two friends. Declan's friends know the whole truth that Declan's family does not: that Declan has AIDS and is dying. Declan and Helen have sad memories of their grandmother's guest house - they had stayed with their grandmother while their father died of cancer. Their mother, Lily, had retu...more
Lisa
This is a snapshot - a crucial moment - in the lives of three women as they face the serious illness of a family member and are forced to confront their long-held issues and difficult past. The book focuses on just a few days and deliberately avoids giving the characters too much to do: instead it is a portrait of love, suffering, pride and loss.
It is written with a lightness of touch that is engaging, yet is never intimate. Toibin writes in the slightly removed way his main character Helen see...more
Lauren Albert
I've always disliked segmenting literature: "Jewish American fiction"; "Gay fiction." Good fiction is as close to universal as is possible no matter who the characters are. Toibin shows an estranged family coming together over the impending death of one of its members. The fact that Declan, the ill brother, has AIDS mostly matters only in that it is a terrible terminal illness that causes suffering. The central fact is that Declan is loved by his family and friends and that love they have for hi...more
Evangeline
This is definitely not my usual fare, at least not of late -- I picked it up because I just joined a bookclub and this is this month's book. I haven't read a heavy family-struggling-with-their-baggage book like this since college. But this one is very well done; the characters are interesting and complex, the writing is lovely, and there's enough humor and warmth spread throughout the book that I never felt bogged down in the deep tragedy of the plot. In fact, I was impressed at what a fast read...more
Rick
Despite the science fiction like title, Toibin’s fourth novel, the one immediately prior to his breakout novel, The Master, is a contemporary Irish character study of three estranged adult women, daughter (Helen), mother (Lily), grandmother (Dora). Also estranged is Helen’s brother Declan, though Declan is in more contact with Lily and Dora than his sister is. Helen carries a grudge that goes back to how her family handled her father’s long ago death from a too late detected cancer. Helen is hap...more
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(From the authors website - http://www.colmtoibin.com/content/bio... )
"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...
Brooklyn The Testament of Mary The Master The Story of the Night The Empty Family

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“Imaginings and resonances and pain and small longings and prejudices. They mean nothing against the resolute hardness of the sea. They meant less than the marl and the mud and the dry clay of the cliff that were eaten away by the weather, washed away by the sea. It was not just that they would fade: they hardly existed, they did not matter, they would have no impact on this cold dawn, this deserted remote seascape where the water shone in the early light and shocked her with its sullen beauty. It might have been better, she felt, if there had never been people, if this turning of the world, and the glistening sea, and the morning breeze happened without witnesses, without anyone feeling, or remembering, or dying, or trying to love. She stood at the edge of the cliff until the sun came out from behind the black rainclouds,” 0 likes
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