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The Blackwater Lightship

3.84 of 5 stars 3.84  ·  rating details  ·  3,081 ratings  ·  273 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

Paperback, 288 pages
Published June 5th 2005 by Scribner (first published 1999)
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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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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
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
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
What I liked most in this novel, besides the superb characterization of its actors, is what reveals about contemporary Irish society, about which one does not know much. This is a scene where the main protagonist, Helen, through whom the narrator tells the story in the third person, is watching TV with her grandparents:
"She [=the grandmother] hated breaks for music and the appearance of writers or film stars or English people. They told too many funny stories; she wanted argument, not amusement
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.
Jen Squire
I've developed a strong love for hearing writers I admire, and last week I listened to the Books and Authors 'Open Book' podcast with Colm Toibin ( - 13 Oct 2014).

So many things he says "need" to be written in my notebook for future reference when I'm writing:

"You want plots, buy the newspaper"

"Move your character away from where they are comfortable - have something happen to them that leaves them unmoored"

"Do a lot of thinking and suspecting to work out
Susan Kavanagh
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!
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.
No one writes like Colm Toibin. Don't let the Hallmark TV version scare you away either. It weren't half bad....
Nov 09, 2008 Gary added it
One of those life-affirming novels that leaves you depressed but glad to be alive. I think...
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, the adage, show don’t tell. Although I don't always agree with these rather dogmatic statements, I have to say that 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 ...more
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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 about Colm Tóibín...
Brooklyn The Testament of Mary Nora Webster The Master The Story of the Night

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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,” 2 likes
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