Jenny Tipping's Reviews > New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers and Their Families

New Ways to Kill Your Mother by Colm Tóibín
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's review
Mar 13, 2012

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I was drawn to this book by the write-up in the Guardian review a couple of weeks ago and by the title. Although it is a pleasant read, the mismatch between the title and the book and some confusion about what the book actually is, made the overall experience a bit disappointing.

Essentially it is a collection of essays of literary criticism, loosely linked by the subject of writers and their families. It particularly, but not exclusively, concentrates on family relationships that writers have sought to escape for various reasons. We meet WB Yeats' father, Samuel Beckett's mother and Thomas Mann's children.

There is some interesting discussion of post-independence Irish literature (Brian Moore, Sebastian Barry, Hugo Hamilton and Roddy Doyle), the quest for an identity, exile and the failure of the Irish father in literature. I found this particularly interesting and would happily have read a whole essay on this topic.

The problem is that if you were looking for such a discussion, you wouldn't know to look in this book. There is no introduction and the first chapter which one might think would serve as a prologue is a discussion of mothers in the work of Jane Austen and Henry James and sheds no light on what the rest of the book may contain.

If this were an academic essay collection, you would expect an introduction setting out the overall theme and discussing each essay and how it links to the theme. If this were a work of literary criticism for a lay audience, you might expect a prologue or shorter introduction which might introduce a narrative thread, which would then run through the rest of the chapters.

This book has neither and in my notes it is only on page 156 that I have worked out what the book actually is. It is a well-written collection of essays, which introduced me to some new writers and new ways of looking at old writers. It is a learned and gentle work, which bears no real relation to the sensationalism of the title.

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message 1: by Ci (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ci I just picked up this book from my local public library. Thank you for giving us such a thoughtful review; now I feel that I am better prepared to read it.

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