Under a crumbling roof in 1990s Ireland, Helen and five other friends and loved ones wait impatiently as her brother, Declan, dies of AIDS. The Blackwater Lightship is a novel about morals and manners and the clashes of culture and personality. Yet most of all, it's a novel about stories and their incomparable capacity to heal the deepest wounds.
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In the opening pages of The Blackwater Lightship, a stranger drives up to Helen O'Doherty's Dublin house to tell her that her brother Declan is in the hospital and needs to see her. At his request, she joins him at the creepy seaside house of their grandmother--where, as children, they awaited news of their dying father. What's more, they're not the only guests. Paul and Larry, friends of Declan who have known about his HIV diagnosis far longer than his family, are the next to arrive. And then comes Helen's estranged mother Lily, whom she hasn't seen in years. Still angry over the emotional abandonment she suffered during her youth, Helen had refused even to invite Lily to her wedding. Now she must come to terms not only with the imminent death of her beloved brother but also with her mother and grandmother--all at once.
Colm Tóibín (The Story of the Night) delivers this unsentimental account of a troubled family in spare but suggestive language. He does allow his characters a few high-spirited remarks and the occasional outburst. Otherwise, though, he keeps his tone even, allowing for the perfect integration of a light, unforced symbolism. For Lily, broken hopes and dreams are bound up with the Blackwater Lightship, one of two lighthouses that once stood in the Irish Sea near Ballyconnigar. As a child, she believed that these would always be there:
Tuskar was a man and the Blackwater Lightship was a woman and they were both sending signals to each other and to other lighthouses, like mating calls. He was forceful and strong and she was weaker but more constant, and sometimes she began to shine her light before darkness had really fallen.For Helen, on the other hand, it was the house itself that prompted her deepest, happiest fantasies. But now Lily has sold the property and shattered Helen's dream that "it would be her refuge, and that her mother, despite everything, would be there for her and would take her in and shelter her and protect her. She had never entertained this thought before; now, she knew that it was irrational and groundless, but nonetheless ... she knew that it was real and it explained everything." What Declan has done by drawing them all together at Granny's house is to enact this potent, poignant fantasy. Whether it has the power to reconstruct his family is another matter, but in any case, The Blackwater Lightship remains a gripping narrative, deftly delivered by a master storyteller. --Regina Marler From the Back Cover:
Praise for The Blackwater Lightship:
“This is a brilliant achievement.…”
– Ottawa Citizen
“An exceptionally fine piece of writing.…It’s a measure of Tóibín’s craft that he can sustain his honest, steady gaze on the enigma of life.”
– Globe and Mail
“This is the most astonishing piece of writing, lyrical in its emotion and spare in its
construction.…Tóibín has crafted an unmissable read.”
– Sunday Herald (U.K.)
“A genuine work of art.”
– Chicago Tribune
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