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The Blackwater Lightship

3.84  ·  Rating Details ·  3,902 Ratings  ·  359 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 resonant
Paperback, 288 pages
Published June 5th 2005 by Scribner (first published 1999)
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Community Reviews

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Barry Pierce
In The Story of the Night, Colm Tóibín told the stories of men living with AIDS in New York in the late 80s. In The Blackwater Lightship, he transposes this storyline to Ireland in the late 90s, a vastly different setting. Helen, a school principal, discovers that her brother Declan is in hospital with AIDS. She has to work out how to tell their mother and grandmother about his diagnoses which he's apparently had "for years". Published just six years after Ireland's decision to decriminalise hom ...more
Aug 12, 2016 Jay rated it really liked it
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
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
Jun 19, 2012 Wealhtheow rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of low-scale family drama and tragedy
Recommended to Wealhtheow by: Dana DesJardins
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
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Description: It is Ireland in the early 1990s. Helen, her mother Lily, and her grandmother Dora have come together, after a decade of estrangement, to tend to Helen's beloved brother, Declan, who is dying of AIDS. Under the crumbling roof of Dora's old house, Declan's two friends join the women as each waits for the end. The six of them, from different generations and with different beliefs, are forced to plumb the shoals of their own histories and to come to terms with each other
Betsy McTiernan
May 13, 2013 Betsy McTiernan rated it really liked it
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
Oct 13, 2016 Becky rated it really liked it
Colm Tóibín never writes an easy story to read & there always seems to be some small element that reaches in & speaks directly to me.

Helen is a mom & a wife & a teacher, seems to have a loving marriage. Her husband & 2 sons head out for the start of a vacation & Helen is looking forward to some alone time....a visitor arrives & things change. We see a week or so in the lives of Helen, her mom, her grandmother, her brother & a few other people. In that week we act
Oct 29, 2009 Yulia rated it really liked it
Shelves: gay-lit
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
Mar 07, 2014 Carol rated it it was amazing
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.
Jan 01, 2016 Trevor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own-copy
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
Jun 05, 2010 Pat rated it liked it
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.
Apr 07, 2013 Martha rated it really liked it
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.
Ellie M
Oct 16, 2016 Ellie M rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, 2016-grc, 2016
Another Colm Toibin book I've really enjoyed reading. He writes so well, and it's so easy to slip into the world of the characters of the novel.

The setting is early 1990s Ireland and the majority of the novel is set on the coast, in the house of Dora, mother to Lily and grandmother to Helen and Declan. Declan is unwell, seriously so, and wants to spend time at his grandmother's house with his family and close friends around him. It becomes clear that the relationship between the children, Helen
Debbie Robson
Jul 21, 2016 Debbie Robson rated it it was amazing
I don’t generally give advice but I will make an exception for The Blackwater Lightship - keep reading until the grandmother comes into the story. Again like my previous review I had better start at the beginning.
I am now very ashamed to admit that The Blackwater Lightship is my first Colm Toibin book. Yes, he’s been on the horizon for a while now but, hey, I had John Banville! Did I really need another Irish writer? So of course I began the book with some trepidation. The first chapter is decep
Mar 30, 2016 Kate rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Black water Lightship is a story about there always being more than two sides to any story, yours and the other persons.

Helen and Declan's Father died when they were young. During his illness they stayed with their Granny and Grandad, were unaware their father was dying or why specifically they were there. Experience comes down to ones perception of any given situation and without meaningful dialogue or clear boundaries to gain understanding, position is taken and can be intractable from al
Jun 12, 2013 Paul rated it it was ok
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
Oct 25, 2015 Dolors rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2015
3,5 rounded up to 4
Dec 29, 2014 Wanda marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Wanda by: Bettie
29 DEC 2014 -- recommended by Bettie. Many thanks!
Dec 07, 2015 Caidyn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don’t have any fancy quotes for this, no real insights. All I can say that this was a very rough book for me to read. It was depressing, and if it was any longer, I probably wouldn’t have been able to read it in one sitting like I did. This book was made to be a one-sitting read. So subtle, so quiet. It wasn’t until halfway through I realized that I had to finish this book today, no matter what it did to my emotions.

Ireland, to me, is not a conservative country. Then again, I know it’s Catholi
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
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
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
Frank Parker
Mar 01, 2013 Frank Parker rated it it was amazing
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
May 05, 2013 Betty rated it it was amazing
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
Carolyn Mck
May 07, 2016 Carolyn Mck rated it it was amazing
This was the first of Toibin's novels that I read. It moved me intensely at the time and has caused me to read everything he has written since. I have re-read The Blackwater Lightship (twice) and it only gathers substance, while written in Toibin's extraordinary limpid prose. I have a personal connection to the AIDS epidemic of the 80s so it meant more to me on that front as well. Along with Cunningham's The Hours and Hollinghurst's Line of Beauty, I count this as one of the best novels written ...more
Oct 25, 2008 Susan rated it really liked it
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.
Oct 12, 2007 Angela rated it it was amazing
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.
Susan Kavanagh
Aug 31, 2015 Susan Kavanagh rated it it was amazing
Shelves: irish
Another grand book from this incredible writer. Toibin's draws characters so real this reader feels like she is in the room with them. This novel engendered a 20-minute discussion over brunch about a character's relationship with her mother and grandmother. What more could one ask for from literature? The subtle ending is terrific. Read it!
Jan 15, 2016 Darin rated it it was amazing
Quiet, austere, and in the end emotionally devastating. I haven't been as affected by a book's denouement in some time.
May 22, 2008 Padraic rated it it was amazing
No one writes like Colm Toibin. Don't let the Hallmark TV version scare you away either. It weren't half bad....
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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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“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,” 3 likes
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