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text 2017-04-06 08:44
A Compelling Exploration Of Cultural Resonance
House of Names: A Novel - Colm Tóibín

Colm Tóibín's new novel is an exploration of the stories of Clytemnestra, Orestes, and Electra all of whom appears in a number of Ancient Greek myths, perhaps most famously in the Oresteia of Aeschylus.

At the heart of the novel are three murders. Agamemnon, the leader of the Greek warriors setting out to attack Troy after the abduction of Helen, tricks his wife, Clytemnestra, into allowing their daughter, Iphigenia, to be sacrificed to the gods into exchange for a following wind for the ships conveying the invading army. Clytemnestra swears revenge on her husband and when he returns some years later, she murders him, with the help of her lover, Aegisthus. Subsequently, Orestes, her son, is removed from the palace, supposedly for his own safety, and held captive. He escapes from captivity, returns to the palace and kills his mother.

It takes a lot of nerve for a contemporary writer to tackle a story that generation after generation have loaded with significance. Tóibín rises to the challenge impressively and there is some wonderfully evocative writing e.g.

We are all hungry now. Food merely whets our appetite, it sharpens our teeth; meat makes us ravenous for more meat, as death is ravenous for more death. Murder makes us ravenous, fills the soul with satisfaction that is fierce and then luscious enough to create a taste for further satisfaction.

Unfortunately it is not all as good as this. There are other places where the writing loses its compelling quality and the energy drains away from the story.

Some of his narrative decisions puzzled me, such as the introduction of Leander, a friend who helps Orestes escape from captivity. In ancient versions of the story the very same role is performed by a character called Pylades. So I didn't understand why Tóibín felt it necessary to change this.

Perhaps he was highlighting the process by which stories intermingle and transform. That certainly seems to be the rationale for including The Children Of Lir, an ancient Irish story, in one of the storytelling sessions that Orestes witnesses while he is making his way homeward.

So the novel left me with unanswered questions. Nevertheless, I found it a compelling piece of storytelling and a wonderful exploration of cultural resonance.

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text 2016-09-21 04:43
I've read 45 out of 104 pages of The Testament of Mary
The Testament of Mary - Colm Tóibín


"There was something supremely alone about him, and if indeed he had been dead for four days and come alive again, he was in possession of a knowledge that seemed to me to have unnerved him; he had tasted something or seen or heard something which had filled him with the purest pain, which had in some grim and unspeakable way frightened him beyond belief. It was knowledge he could not share, perhaps because there were no words for it. How could there be words for it? As I watched him I knew that whatever it was had bewildered him, whatever knowledge he had come to possess, whatever he had seen or heard, he carried it with him in the depths of his soul as the body carries its own dark share of blood and sinew."

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review 2016-08-12 06:35
Brooklyn's in my Heart

I was so impressed by this novel. I fell in love with the film version first, and I wasn't sure that the book could match it. I know... often the book is better than the movie, but sometimes it's the opposite. Who wouldn't rather watch The Notebook or Bridget Jones' Diary rather than read those books? So, while I was eager to read the book and delve more deeply into Eilis Lacey's story of immigration, love, grief, and growing up--and better understand her heart and mind--I was also hesitant since I didn't want to be disappointed. I was not disappointed.


The book had only minor differences from the film. In both, the story is a quiet but strong one. There are many endearing characters, and only a couple that you love to hate. There are a few laugh out loud moments.


What really stands out about the novel is the spare language. I think every word was chosen with care by the author. He isn't at all flowery in his descriptions of Ireland or New York; he doesn't go over board with inner monologues. But there are some passages that really capture a feeling. Like homesickness...


“She was nobody here. It was not just that she had no friends and family; it was rather that she was a ghost in this room, in the streets on the way to work, on the shop floor. Nothing meant anything. The rooms in the house on Friary Street belonged to her, she thought; when she moved in them she was really there. In the town, if she walked to the shop or to the Vocational School, the air, the light, the ground, it was all solid and part of her, even if she met no one familiar. Nothing here was part of her. It was false, empty, she thought. She closed her eyes and tried to think, as she had done so many times in her life, of something she was looking forward to, but there was nothing. Not the slightest thing. Not even Sunday. Nothing maybe except sleep, and she was not even certain she was looking forward to sleep. In any case, she could not sleep yet, since it was not yet nine o’clock. There was nothing she could do. It was as though she had been locked away.”


I hope to see more film versions of Toibin's work as I think his writing style lends itself well to screenplays. And I may just read another book by him, too!

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-04-04 18:25
Colm Tóibín's Brooklyn
Brooklyn - Colm Tóibín

Hauntingly beautiful and heartbreaking, Colm Tóibín's sixth novel, Brooklyn, is set in Brooklyn and Ireland in the early 1950s, when one young woman crosses the ocean to make a new life for herself.

Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the years following World War Two. Though skilled at bookkeeping, she cannot find a job in the miserable Irish economy. When an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor Eilis in America--to live and work in a Brooklyn neighborhood "just like Ireland"--she decides she must go, leaving her fragile mother and her charismatic sister behind.

Eilis finds work in a department store on Fulton Street, and when she least expects it, finds love. Tony, a blond Italian from a big family, slowly wins her over with patient charm. He takes Eilis to Coney Island and Ebbets Field, and home to dinner in the two-room apartment he shares with his brothers and parents. He talks of having children who are Dodgers fans. But just as Eilis begins to fall in love with Tony, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her future.

By far Tóibín's most instantly engaging and emotionally resonant novel, Brooklyn will make readers fall in love with his gorgeous writing and spellbinding characters.
[ synopsis from goodreads ]


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review 2016-02-29 00:10
Notes on Adaptation: Brooklyn
Brooklyn - Colm Tóibín

"Brooklyn" is nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay on tonight's Academy Awards, and I  am certainly excited about that. It was my favorite film of the year (although it won't win), and both the book and the adaptation were just, just perfect. 


The adaptation was completely faithful. The only changes were that Eilis' brothers have disappeared as characters and the fiancé's conversation in the courthouse makes the reveal at the end of the film clearer. Both are acceptable changes. 


Plus, the screenplay was written by the fine British novelist Nick Hornby, who would be the person I'd most like to see give an Oscar speech.


Read it, see it, love it, "Brooklyn."



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