Madeline's Reviews > The Empty Family

The Empty Family by Colm Tóibín
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Feb 27, 2011

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bookshelves: 2012, short-stories, queer, family, ireland, historical-fiction, love-story, marriage-lets-you-down
Read from April 03 to 07, 2012 — I own a copy

I do not think short stories are Tóibín's strongest suit - I think longer forms serve him better (my favorite story was the longest story). A good short story can be (though I don't want to make any really strong normative claims) a bit like a slap out of nowhere, and he doesn't have that talent, which I think I . . . probably should have guessed before reading these.

But my evaluation of this book is probably not totally fair, because Brooklyn is still fresh in my mind, and I love Brooklyn with an adolescent passion. (Picture the sobbing girls in A Hard Day's Night. Now go read Brooklyn.) These are all perfectly good stories, and I wouldn't be like "Jesus, the New Yorker has really let itself go, right?" if one of them turned up in an issue (and some of them have). One of the cover blurbs (bastions of reliability, I know!) mentions that this would be a good introduction to his work. That seems to me a fair evaluation of them, but I imagine if you've loved his novels - or, in my case, novel - then you would find these a bit of a disappointment. As I've mentioned, I know this is unfair: a combination of my personal aesthetics re: short stories and the fresh memory of Brooklyn conspired against this collection, so.

All the same, he can do better.
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Reading Progress

04/04/2012 page 137
48.0% "So far, not as good as Brooklyn. What is as good as Brooklyn, though? What is? What could be?"

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message 1: by Machlis (new)

Machlis I'm in agreement with this comment. Few writers are equally good at novels and short stories, as the two genres require very different skills and perspectives. Even so, I think this second collection far excels Toibin's first story collection and a couple of stories really shine for me: Silence and the Colour of Shadows. A Toibin fan like myself will find much in his stories of interest, because so many of them anticipate or rework material in his novels. In fact, he seems a writer who continues to explore the same themes with slightly different approaches, so one finds common themes running through every book from his first, The South, to his most recent, Norah Webster.


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