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Search tags: Colm-Toibin
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review 2018-08-12 14:31
Simplistic, observational, evocative
The Heather Blazing - Colm Tóibín

An elderly judge Eamon Redmond lives with his wife Carmel and travels to the fair city of Dublin everyday to fulfill his high court role. A quiet, thoughtful, deeply intellectual man Eamon often reflects on his life in the present and moments of his childhood that helped shape and create the person he is today. His childhood was a time of order, daily chores, and routine but always under the auspices of the only binding force in the community; the catholic church. A church that demanded allegiance and in return for such devotion and faith man could be saved from the evils of the world, but "without God’s help, we will all die in our sinful condition and remain separated from God forever". The truth of the situation was that the church offered few answers for a young man exploring his sexuality, trying to make sense of the often painful passage from boyhood to manhood. However politics and the allegiance to a particular party played a much more prominent role in the life of the citizens with its constant reminder of past struggles and romantic leaders most prominent of which was Eamon de Valera and the famous Easter rising of 1916 against British rule. As Eamon Redmond becomes immersed in the politics of the age he meets and falls in love with a young party worker Carmel who is equally smitten by her admirer's  oratory skills and his ambitions within the political arena.

 

The story is told in two parts a reflection, often romantic, view of childhood with its warmth and sadness at the passing of close relatives, and in contrast adulthood, responsibilities and complex decisions that constitutes the daily routine of a high court judge. To me The Heather Blazing celebrates the importance of family and how the youthful formative years impress and influence our decisions and mindset into adulthood. Colm Toibin is a great observe of daily routines and the Ireland he describes reminds me, as an Irishman, of my own childhood with simple family routines embedded forever in my mind....."They all settled around the fire, the women with glasses of sherry, the men with beer, the three boys with glasses of lemonade. Eamon watched as his father tipped his glass to the side and poured the beer in slowly, letting it slide softly down the edge of the glass"....The harsh beautiful untamed Irish landscape with wild unpredictable seas somehow compliments the simplistic yet deeply moving narrative of one of Ireland's finest authors.

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review 2018-08-09 04:56
House of Names
House of Names: A Novel - Colm Tóibín

When I saw this book on NetGalley, I chose it because I read Brooklyn and Nora Webster; but this book was something else entirely. A retelling of the story of Clytemnestra, this isn't something I would normally go for, but I live in a house with Greek mythology fans, and they are obviously starting to affect my choices. Not really what I would expect from Toibin either, by the way, but I am convinced now that he can write anything he wants; this story is compelling, and, in some ways, prescient. If it weren't for Toibin's name attached to this story, I probably wouldn't have picked it up at all, though it does have a beautiful cover. (I prefer the red one on Goodreads - BookLikes has its usual limited number of editions - 1 for this one, unfortunately...) I admit, absent of any other information, I do still sometimes judge a book by its cover. In any case, if you feel the way I do, stretch a bit and try this one — there are some graphic moments, but it is a powerful story, and Toibin does not disappoint.

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review 2017-06-19 00:00
House of Names
House of Names - Colm Tóibín An interesting take on a very old story. By focussing on Orestes more closely, Toibin teased out themes such as karma, regret and redemption.

In the absence of the gods, the tragic trajectory of the story is all too human. And like all stories of this nature, it is hard to identify at which point their fates were set.
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review 2017-06-11 21:22
I found the retelling of the story of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon's deaths to be very well done.
House of Names: A Novel - Colm Tóibín

House of Names, Colm Toibin, author; Juliet Stevenson, Charlie Anson, Pippa Nixon, narrators
I really enjoyed the narration of this short novel about a famous Greek myth. In order to retain power and success in battle, Agamemnon has arranged for the murder of his own first born daughter, Iphigenia, to appease the gods who have demanded it. The elders agree that this must be done to save their own lives and protect their families. They agree to tear asunder his family and to take the life of an innocent young girl to save their own. This they believe will turn the tide of battle in their favor. So begins a cycle of deception and violence.
Clytemnestra was deceived into preparing her daughter to be the bride of Achilles. Unwittingly, she brought her daughter to her place of slaughter. When her husband, Agamemnon, returns victorious after battle, she is ready to take action to avenge her daughter’s death. Clytemnestra teams up with a prisoner, Aegisthus, to carry out her deed. One murder leads to another in a cycle of violence and betrayal.
Meanwhile, Elektra, sister to Iphigenia, draws her own conclusions about her sister’s death, blaming her mother. Orestes knows his father ordered her murder, but is unaware of anything else that has happened. Both sister and brother have been temporarily neutralized by order of Aegisthus and are imprisoned.
As Toibin reimagines how these characters feel and react, the reader is drawn into the palace and their lives. The secrets that are kept and the deceptions that are planned lead to more and more confusion, rumor and disloyalty. Toibin breathes life into their introspection and behavior.
In this retelling of the story, the characters deal with all the pain of human suffering and the duplicity of those around them. The narrators brought them to life as their performance was not only insightful, but their portrayals felt genuine. I could actually see the shade of Clytemnestra walking in the corridor, feel the blade plunge into the neck of Agamemnon, hear the cries of Iphigenia as she was brought to the slaughter, feel the fear of Orestes as he tried to pretend to be brave and grown up when he was kidnapped and didn’t fully understand his position, and the deceitfulness of Elektra as she carried out her own plans.
I wondered how it would have turned out if Orestes had been a more active participant in the entire process of the palace intrigue. Although he is not, and is rather an observer forced to be on the sidelines, it felt to me like Orestes was the dupe, the foil, the Job like character who was the catalyst for bringing about the events that would take them all into the future. At the end of the novel, there is a germ of greater freedom planted and the yoke of slavery begins to be questioned.
Each character modeled his/her behavior on someone who may or may not have been worthy. Power was constantly changing hands. Fealty was questioned, people were murdered. Elektra’s character was hard to read as she seemed to be part heroine and part villain, as did Aegisthus and even Leander. Orestes seemed to be caught in the trap each laid. I believe the author has done a wonderful job of reimagining this myth, making the inner workings and feelings of the palace and the characters real, rather than objects of imagination.
I am not sure if it is as good a read in a print book, but as an audio, I found it captivating. I could not stop listening and felt regret when I was forced to put it down for awhile by other earthly needs.

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