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The Empty Family: Stories by Colm Tóibín
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The Empty Family: Stories (edition 2010)

by Colm Tóibín

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3601930,197 (3.69)70
Member:seidchen
Title:The Empty Family: Stories
Authors:Colm Tóibín
Info:New York : Scribner, 2010.
Collections:Your library, To read, Own but unread
Rating:
Tags:Irish, British, 21st century, fiction, stories, Lady Gregory, Henry James

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The Empty Family: Stories by Colm Tóibín (Author)

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English (18)  Swedish (1)  All languages (19)
Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
Once I really got started, I couldn't put it down. The first story is not the best but it quickly changed and I really loved them, the only exception being the one that seemed mainly about gay orgies in Barcelona. The rest were really amazing, he has a great touch for short stories. Looking forward to Brooklyn even more now.
  amyem58 | Jul 3, 2014 |
As is often the case with a collection of short stories, I really enjoyed some of The Empty Family and others I didn't. Tóibín is at his best with the stories that are calm and reflective, almost like extracts from a longer novel, and he has a particular knack for capturing the rhythms of Irish speech—reading his dialogue is like hearing echoes from home. His prose can occasionally be a little purple and self-indulgent—'One Minus One' begins "The moon hangs low over Texas. The moon is my mother", which was almost enough to have me flicking on to the next story. I'm glad I stuck with it, though, because that story, about an émigré author racing back to Ireland from the States to be with his mother before she died, was beautifully observed and so unsettlingly close to some aspects of my grandmother's recent passing and my relationship with her that it had me in tears.

Other stories were too opaque for me, or seemed to rely too much on the Shock Value of two men having oral or anal sex. I'm not sure how much that's still the case in 21st century Ireland, outside of your average member of Youth Defence or so on, and they're unlikely to be picking up a book by an openly gay author in the first place, and when you strip away the Shock Value, then you have some rather dull Tab A into Slot B sex. Which may, in a way, have been Tóibín's point—gay people can have boring sex too!—but if I've read hotter stuff that managed to convey better characterisation than happens here. ( )
  siriaeve | May 2, 2014 |
(7.5) Several of the stories in this collection resonated with me. I could recognise the experiences and emotions expressed. This writer gave voice to my own feelings.
Many of them are based on feelings of dislocation and regret. There is a mournful, sombre tone but it is also an honest reflection of some life experiences.
From 'One Minus One' on the death of a mother - "We walked down the corridor as though for the rest of our lives our own breathing would bear traces of hers, of her final struggle, as though our own way of being had just been halved or quartered by what we had seen."
The quote from the title story which is referring to ocean waves - "It had an elemental hold; it was something coming towards us as though to save us but it did nothing instead, it withdrew in a shrugging irony, as if to suggest that this is what the world is, and our time in it, all lifted possibility, all complexity and rushing fervour, to end in nothing on a small strand, and go back out to rejoin the empty family from whom we had set out alone with such a burst of brave unknowing energy." This writer has a way with words giving this reader pause for reflection on life.
The stories set in Spain were a new reading experience for me both in the location and content and isn't this what reading is all about. ( )
  HelenBaker | Dec 8, 2013 |
I was unable to feel much for this book through the first half. Although the writing was lovely, the stories told couldn't carry me along. But, about half way the stories changed from family relationships to sexual relationships. The excitement and promise that a new relationship holds is what got me interested. Although the sexual part of the more often than not gay relationships was fairy graphically described, it didn't come over as sleazy and it offered me a window into lives I have no experience of.

The final story is a lot longer than the rest and had the makings of a novel all its own. It describes the forbidden relationship between two Muslim men living in Barcelona. They are involved in a scam whereby they are working off the cost of passage home in advance of the actual trip. They are living in overcrowded shared rooms, and are at the mercy of their boss who controls every aspect of their lives. When the boss comes across two men in an intimate situation, he reacts violently which of course is the source of much fear and uncertainly of future for the men involved. Even though this story didn't end the way I expected or wanted, it was a special portrayal of cultural dislocation and dislocation within culture. This story I rated 4 stars, but the entire collection 3.5 stars. ( )
  Ireadthereforeiam | Nov 26, 2013 |
This is a mixed bag of short stories. A couple of them earn about 1.5 or 2 stars from me, but a few earn closer to 4 or even 4.5 stars. The end result? An okay collection worth working one's way through but with disappointments as well as rewards.

"Silence" was forgettable.

"The Empty Family" was a five-star short story, a wonderfully wrought first-person narrative with some lovely language: "I wish I knew how colours came to be made. Some days when I was teaching I looked out the window and thought that everything I was saying was easy to find out and had already been surmised." Ah yes; I completely resonated with this.

"Two Women" was poignant, engaging, interesting.

"One Minus One" -- meh.

"The Pearl Fishers" is a complex exploration of identity, sexuality, choices. The female character was disappointingly one-dimensional and shallow, but that is part of Tóibín's point here..... This story has one of my favorite sentences: "The future is a foreign country; they do things differently there."

"Barcelona, 1975" is simply a memoir of a young adult love affair, extremely explicit and (homo)erotic. I don't know that it's profound, but it's courageous.

In "The New Spain," Carme returns to Spain after 8 years away as a political activist in the UK -- our theme is the resolution of political commitment with family tradition, communism vs. inheritance of family wealth (and the resolution is less than fully comfortable on an individual level).

"The Colour of Shadows" is an excellent entry. Paul visits his aunt, who raised him, at a nursing home and spends time with her as she approaches her death. He makes a bold promise to her -- and finds a surprising peace.

Finally, "The Street" is the piece de resistance and singly makes the collection worthwhile. Malik is a young immigrant from Pakistan, making his way in Barcelona where he neither speaks the language nor understands the customs. At the mercy of Baldy, who makes arrangements and interacts with local officials, Malik finds himself emotionally and sexually drawn to the silent Abdul. After a tragic and brutal night, the two men face possible deportation or alienation from their small conservative community of barely-legal immigrants trying to make a living in this unfamiliar social and economic terrain. I'm avoiding spoilers here, but if you obtain this collection of short stories and simply skip to this one, so be it. This final story, all by itself, added a half-star to the collection's rating. ( )
  EBT1002 | Aug 27, 2013 |
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For Anthony Cronin
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The moon hangs low over Texas.
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The future is a foreign country: they do things differently there.  

The Pearl Fishers
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Book description
‘I imagined lamplight, shadows, soft voices, clothes put away, the low sound of late news on the radio. And I thought as I crossed the bridge at Baggot Street to face the last stretch of my own journey home that no matter what I had done, I had not done that.’ In the captivating stories that make up The Empty Family Colm Tóibín delineates with a tender and unique sensibility lives of unspoken or unconscious longing, of individuals, often willingly, cast adrift from their history. From the young Pakistani immigrant who seeks some kind of permanence in a strange town to the Irish woman reluctantly returning to Dublin and discovering a city that refuses to acknowledge her long absence each of Tóibín’s stories manage to contain whole worlds: stories of fleeing the past and returning home, of family threads lost and ultimately regained. [Amazon.co.uk]
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A collection of short fiction includes "The Street," in which Pakistani workers in Barcelona pursue a taboo affair; and "Two Women," in which a taciturn Irish set designer confronts repressed emotions while working in her homeland.

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