The novelist's fiction often makes a virtue of its mundane settings. But his latest novel is a reminder of what happens when you do away with plot entirelyby Claire Lowdon / November 13, 2014 / Leave a comment
Published in December 2014 issue of Prospect Magazine
Colm Tóibín has written eight novels. Four of them—The South, The Story of the Night, The Master and The Testament of Mary—deal with subjects ranging from Argentinian politics to the life of Henry James. The other four form an intriguingly uniform quartet. The Heather Blazing, The Blackwater Lightship, Brooklyn and now Nora Webster are all rooted in Enniscorthy, the small town in County Wexford where Tóibín himself grew up.
Because Tóibín’s characters move freely through the four books, we glimpse them from multiple angles at different times in their lives. The Heather Blazing tells the story of Eamon Redmond, a Dublin judge close to retirement in the 1990s, interleaved with memories of his 1940s childhood. Like the other “Wexford novels,” the narration focuses tightly on a single character: for 243 pages, we see things from Eamon’s point of view. At the end of Brooklyn, set in the 1950s, the protagonist Eilis goes with friends to the beach at Cush. (The characters in all four books holiday at Cush on the Wexford coast.) They see Eamon’s father and someone remarks that Eamon himself must be studying—“that’s what he usually does.” It’s a throwaway detail if Brooklyn is the only Tóibín novel you’ve read. But if you’ve met Eamon before, the moment resurrects him as a young man and provides an external view of someone you know intimately from “inside.”