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The Blackwater Lightship

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  5,639 ratings  ·  546 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 August 13th 1999)
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Amalia Gkavea
‘’When I was young, lying in bed [...] I used to believe that Tuscar was a man and the Blackwater Lightship was a woman and they were both sending signals to each other and to other lighthouses, like mating calls.’’

Colm Toibin entered my top-5 squad of contemporary writers with his haunting rendition of the Atreides tragedy House of Names. I wanted to start my research of his work with a number of his earlier novels before I move on to Brooklyn and The Blackwater Lightship came my way. It wa
It's the story of an Irish family that is as fractured as it could possibly be, brought reluctantly together by the tragedy of a son/brother dying of Aids. Heartbreaking and devastating, and it will leave you drained at the end.

4.5 stars for what may be Toibin's best novel.
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
Julie Christine
The Blackwater Lightship was my introduction to the work of Colm Tóibín, nearly twenty years ago. I've held onto this book since first reading it in 2002, through moves local and trans-Pacific when hundreds of other books were given away, knowing it was too special to me as a reader, and eventually a writer, to let go. After all these years, I was left with only vague memories of awe and sadness, poignancy, and softness.

In this time of shelter-in-place, when I long ago ran out of library books,
John Anthony
Jul 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Declan, approaching 30, is dying of AIDS in Southern Ireland. His father had died young too, of cancer. He wants to see that part of the coast he remembers as a child when he and his sister Helen stayed with their grandparents, throughout their father's prolonged final illness at hospital in Dublin. It is in these waters that the Blackwater Lightship once shone, a secondary source of light alongside the more powerful Tusker lighthouse.

His mettlesome granny, Dora, now widowed, is host in her remo
Sep 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In 1993, homosexuality was decriminalized in Ireland; and it is also important to note that at this time, the world was in the midst of the AIDS epidemic. This is the backdrop against which The Blackwater Lightship by Colm Toibin takes place.

It was the end of another school year and Helen, a school principal in Dublin, was looking forward to a holiday with her husband and two young children. That holiday, however, would have to wait. Paul, a longtime friend of Helen's brother Declan, arrived on
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
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 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
Aug 30, 2013 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. ...more
Mar 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars

Helen is a school principal living in Dublin. She is married with two children. She is preparing to go on Holiday with her family in the beginning of the book. Then she learns that her brother Declan has suffered from AIDS for years without telling her. Declan asks her if she would tell their Mother and Grandmother his diagnosis. Helen, who has been estranged from her Mother and Grandmother for years is put in a position to contact the women but to also deal with past issues especially
Jim Fonseca
Oct 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A young man in Ireland is dying of AIDS and he wants to spend his last days in his grandmother's seaside house where he has fond childhood memories. His gay friends visit and more-or-less live-in while they care for him. His female family members hover over the dying man as well: mother, sister and grandmother. The relatives all have "issues" with each other and the main character's illness serves to bring the interrelations among the three women to the fore. This story is told mainly by the sis ...more
Apr 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
You can't go wrong reading one of Colin Toibin's books. His elegant, understated, gorgeous writing style mesmerizes the reader. This book also realistically deals with family and friends dealing with the imminent death of a beloved young man from AIDS. The past and unresolved family issues are dealt with in an organic, natural manner. Loved this book. ...more
Nov 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the house by a cliff of the southern coast of Ireland, a reluctant family comes together around a brother, son and grandson, who is dying of aids. The three women - sister, mother and grandmother find out about Declan's preference and his illness all at once and try to deal with the facts each in her own way. But the closet seems to be filled with many other skeletons besides Declan's homosexuality. There are memories of the past, the relationships and unresolved conflicts between the three w ...more
Aug 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am bereft having finished this book. There are few writers as truthful as Toibin. As a daughter and a mother of sons, all I can do is cry at the end of this book and know that life is pain, and love also.
Jun 28, 2011 rated it it was ok
This is a nice easy read but did not find it a page turner. I felt the story was flat in places and I lost interest quite a few times and was glad it was a short read.
Apr 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.
Betsy McTiernan
May 13, 2013 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
Apr 17, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, 2017, in-en, ie
Early '90s. Declan is dying and Tóibín masterfully brings together the women in his life (sister, mother, grandmother), forces them to cope with him being gay and having AIDS, throws in a couple of best friends and delivers an absolutely amazing story of hardship, friendship and loss.

I love this guy to the moon and back.
Feb 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: booker
"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."

The simplest of stories can sometimes be impactful. No fancy words, no twists, no major secrets and yet an Irish dysfunctional family story. The Blackwater Lightship is an emotional wreck.

Helen finds out that her gay brother Declan has AIDS and informs he
<- my cover

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. "
Jan 27, 2013 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 an
May 11, 2018 rated it it was ok
Fortunately this book is short. However, not short enough. The premises of the book are interesting enough to make one read at least half of it wondering what is going to happen next. But after that everything is just painful. The whole story smells staged and faked - the story, the dialgoues, the monologues, everything is fake in this book. Fake and boring.
The story starts announcing some big family drama, and some skeletons in the closet to be discovered, however, the whole drama is described
Oct 13, 2016 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 actually get a little glimpse of a
Oct 07, 2009 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
Anyone who liked Nora Webster will recognise this - it shares its Wexford coast location, which clearly has important childhood memories for Tóibín. This was a beautiful book, my only criticism is that its plot seems very similar to the earlier and equally rewarding The Heather Blazing. ...more
Sep 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lgbtq, health
This novel is about a young man dying of AIDS, spending time with his family and friends.

Beginning reading it, I was suddenly brought up short realising he was in the same hospital as as a friend of mine. There is the same game of running around trying to find the consultants. And I liked this comment:

'Also, it seems to me they don't really need to have him in hospital.. He has to have a line put back in him.. But after that they probably won't do anything else to him, just monitor him. It's r
Jul 25, 2019 rated it liked it
Why can’t we all just get along?

I gravitate towards dark fiction, but something about this one really got to me. Maybe because there is nothing darker than not being in contact with your immediate family. And then being thrust together to comfort (?) someone as they’re dying. Colm Tóibín is one of my favorite writers AND human beings. I wouldn’t have been so gutted by this if he weren’t such an amazing author. It’s not like I wasn’t warned by the quote on the front: “Beautifully crafted...spare
Jun 05, 2010 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.
Sep 20, 2019 rated it liked it
The Blackwater Lightship [1999] – ★★★1/2

In 1999, Paul Binding from The Independent on Sunday wrote that “we shall be reading and living with The Blackwater Lightship in twenty years”. Twenty years have now passed, and, this year, The Blackwater Lightship by Irish author Colm Tóibín (Brooklyn [2009]) is twenty years old. Therefore, I am taking this opportunity to review this book that was also shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1999. In this story, three generations of women (daughter Helen, mot
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Colm Tóibín FRSL, is an Irish novelist, short story writer, essayist, playwright, journalist, critic, and poet. Tóibín is currently Irene and Sidney B. Silverman Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University in Manhattan and succeeded Martin Amis as professor of creative writing at the University of Manchester.

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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,” 7 likes
“She wished that she could pray now for something – for Declan to be better, or for Declan not to be worse. But she realised as she walked through the car park and then up through the fields that she could not pray. She could only wish; and she fervently wished that what was coming could be delayed or stopped as she made her way along the road into the village.” 0 likes
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