Steve Woods's Reviews > The Blackwater Lightship

The Blackwater Lightship by Colm Tóibín
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's review
Feb 11, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: gay-fiction, a-good-read
Read from April 19 to June 15, 2012

This is a novel about women, three generations of them and the bitterness and cossetted resentments of lifetimes, held behind cold, hard cruel surfaces while the emotions boil beneath. The catalyst for their their coming together against their will is the boys impending death, and excruciating experience of the final stages of AIDS. It's as though his suffering is a kind of poultice that draws the boils. It is not a gentle book, it is an intense tale and although there seems to be a small blush of redemption on the horizon, it is never fully formed and one wonders whether whatever draws and sponges away the most vitriolic of the venom can burst through the rigidity of the positions these people have taken against one another or whether it will all just snap back into place once the boy dies.

The ordinariness of it the few days is what is most painful. I can only speak for myself and the emotional undercurrents that were always at work in my own family make this scenario frighteningly familiar. It seems to me that this is family life in one form or another as families have so sickened throughout the 20th century, but then that may just be the filter through which I view human relations. There may be other families not as blighted as those that have come into my purvey

It is masterfully written and no wonder the book was shortlisted for some priz or another. One of the critics wrote of it that the prose "supple and beautifully modulated" another as "economical and deft";if by that they mean that nary a word wasted , just so and the language is just veruy accessible. It could all be a conversation being had over tea.

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