Colm Tóibín Criticism - Essay

Boyd Tonkin (review date 31 August 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Tonkin, Boyd. “Asylum for Modern Times.” New Statesman & Society 119, no. 3099 (31 August 1990): 37.

[In the following review, Tonkin praises Tóibín's portrayal of Barcelona in Homage to Barcelona.]

“Where ya going?” someone sings at an air stewardess in one of those tuneless dirges that fill Stephen Sondheim musicals. “Barcelona,” she drawls. And so, during the 1980s, did everyone. What Paris had once been and Prague may soon become, the Catalan capital was, and is: the “one living point of the earth” where, for fashion-conscious travellers, “modern times have found an asylum.”

So wrote Le Corbusier, praising the...

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Eamonn Wall (review date fall 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Wall, Eamonn. Review of The South, by Colm Tóibín. Review of Contemporary Fiction 11, no. 3 (fall 1991): 288-89.

[In the following review, Wall offers a positive assessment of The South, noting that the novel “succeeds brilliantly.”]

When her husband, against her objections, insists on taking a local Catholic family to court for allowing their cattle to graze illegally on their land, Katherine Proctor leaves him and her son and travels to Barcelona where she becomes a painter: she is thirty-two. In Spain, in Colm Tóibín's brilliant first novel [The South,] she becomes part of a bohemian set, takes art classes, meets Miguel and has a...

(The entire section is 433 words.)

Julia O'Faolain (review date 4 September 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: O'Faolain, Julia. “Keeping the Peace.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4666 (4 September 1992): 19.

[In the following review, O'Faolain discusses what The Heather Blazing reveals about Ireland and the Irish social conscience.]

The title [The Heather Blazing] comes from an old song. “A rebel hand set the heather blazing” has a lilt from the days when Irish reality was in alien hands and language could more easily subvert than confront it. Today, narratives coming from the Republic are cooler, and their prose is as likely to be notable for precision as for panache.

In his impressive first novel, The South, Colm...

(The entire section is 732 words.)

Jeff Danziger (review date 17 March 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Danziger, Jeff. “Caught between Past and Present in an Irish Landscape.” Christian Science Monitor 85, no. 76 (17 March 1993): 13.

[In the following review, Danziger praises Tóibín's humor and skillful characterization in The Heather Blazing.]

Colm Tóibín's first novel, The South won the Irish Times/Aer Lingus Irish Literature Award—no small feat in a country with a strong literary heritage. His new novel, The Heather Blazing, gracefully depicts the beauty and loneliness of the Irish experience.

Eamon Redmond, an Irish judge, is trying to make sense of his life. His family was in the fight for Irish independence....

(The entire section is 653 words.)

Mark Harman (review date 13 June 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Harman, Mark. “The Irish Struggle Within.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (13 June 1993): 2, 8.

[In the following positive review, Harman evaluates the strengths of The Heather Blazing, complimenting its clear prose and intense plot.]

We Irish are often said to be obsessed with the tangled history of our small island. Over the past few decades historians have been busy revising the simplistic version of Irish history that pitted ever virtuous Irish natives against evil foreign conquerors. That traditional scenario is still accepted in some Irish-American circles. The more differentiated or revisionist view of Irish history informs this splendid new...

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Peter Stanford (review date 11 November 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Stanford, Peter. “Madonna Fan Steals Show.” New Statesman & Society 123, no. 4210 (11 November 1994): 36-7.

[In the following excerpt, Stanford commends Tóibín's ability to present a personal, though critically detached view of the Catholic Church in The Sign of the Cross.]

For an unashamedly personal view of the Catholic Church, Colm Toibin's The Sign of the Cross cannot be bettered. Many authors have recorded a pilgrimage across Catholic Europe in search of the soul of the church, that elusive something behind papal pomp and dwindling mass-going statistics. But Colm Toibin is in another class altogether.

His prose is never...

(The entire section is 480 words.)

Malise Ruthven (review date 18 November 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Ruthven, Malise. “The Virgin Speaks Only the Purest Croatian.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4781 (18 November 1994): 27.

[In the following review, Ruthven criticizes Tóibín's prose style in The Sign of the Cross, commenting that his language is sometimes too simplistic for his subject matter.]

At Vinegar Hill outside Enniscorthy, the Wexford rebels of 1798 made their last stand against the English—and lost. Colm Tóibín could see Vinegar Hill from his childhood home. Like every other Irish child, he had been told how “the English poured boiling tar on the scalps of the Irish and when the tar dried they peeled it off, whereas our side, the...

(The entire section is 1176 words.)

Edward T. Wheeler (review date 3 November 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Wheeler, Edward T. “An Unhappy Traveler.” Commonweal 122, no. 19 (3 November 1995): 20-1.

[In the following review, Wheeler offers a generally negative assessment of The Sign of the Cross, noting that Tóibín seems to grow weary of his subject.]

The Sign of the Cross is part story of a pilgrimage, part travel book which offers to take us in the company of its author on “Travels through Catholic Europe.” We go with Colm Tóibín, the forty-year-old Irish novelist, critic, and journalist, to many places: to Lourdes to bathe in the waters, to Seville to see the Palm Sunday procession, to Vilnius to try to understand the Lithuanian church,...

(The entire section is 1103 words.)

Paul Elie (review date 11 December 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Elie, Paul. “Smells and Bells.” New Republic, no. 4221 (11 December 1995): 39-41.

[In the following review, Elie argues that Tóibín fails to bridge his personal religious experience with his critical observations in The Sign of the Cross, resulting in “an account of strangers scarcely met, a pilgrimage barely begun.”]

The lapsed Catholic is “as boring a figure as the stage Irishman, and sometimes the same figure,” Anthony Burgess declared in his memoirs.

What makes him a bore is his lachrymosity, especially in drink, about being a bad son who has struck his mother and dare not go home. There is also the...

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Michael Kerrigan (review date 13 September 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Kerrigan, Michael. “In the World of Men.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4876 (13 September 1996): 25.

[In the following review, Kerrigan asserts that Tóibín fails to fully connect the personal and public stories in The Story of the Night.]

The most striking moment in Colm Tóibín's new novel [The Story of the Night] occurs only a few pages in, when the narrator-protagonist, Richard Garay, recollects a homosexual encounter in the Bũenos Aires of the Generals. Hearing the loud yet unaccountable sound of “car engines revving over and over,” he asks his partner of the hour what the noise is. “He brought me to the window to show me the police...

(The entire section is 979 words.)

Victoria Radin (review date 20 September 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Radin, Victoria. “The Secret Agent.” New Statesman 125, no. 4301 (20 September 1996): 48.

[In the following review, Radin compliments the prose in The Story of the Night, but criticizes Tóibín for patronizing his readers while discussing the subject of AIDS.]

Colm Toíbín is a writer's writer: fastidious, unshowy and capable of thrillingly accurate perceptions. His view of life is stoically tragic—an unfashionable stance in this age of grievances—and his range is wide. He can have as protagonist a young Irish woman who reinvents herself in the early years of Franco's Spain; Toíbín stays by her side, entirely plausibly, until her final years...

(The entire section is 794 words.)

James Simmons (review date 21 September 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Simmons, James. “Sex and Oil in Argentina.” Spectator 277, no. 8775 (21 September 1996): 52.

[In the following review, Simmons praises Tóibín's writing style in The Story of the Night, but expresses disappointment regarding the “public side” of the novel's plot.]

If Colm Tóibín were a singer you would say he had perfect pitch. [The Story of the Night] leads you through its somewhat meandering plot clearly and tactfully and interestingly, with no hint of obscurity, no bombast, no showing off … and yet it is original and disturbing, with a satisfying ring of imaginative truth. I know that this Irishman was once a journalist and has...

(The entire section is 980 words.)

Robert Ellis Hosmer, Jr. (review date winter 1997-1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hosmer, Jr., Robert Ellis. “Dreams in the Dark: Fiction Chronicle.” Cross Currents 47, no. 4 (winter 1997-1998): 531-41.

[In the following excerpt, Hosmer argues that The Story of the Night is not as strong as Tóibín's first two novels.]

Like [John Banville's] The Untouchable, The Story of the Night, Colm Toibin's third novel, takes as its narrator-protagonist a male homosexual. Toibin creates the character of Richard Garay, son of an Argentinian father and English mother, living through tumultuous times of war with Britain over the Malvinas (a.k.a. the Falklands) and repression wrought by military dictatorship. Whereas the politics...

(The entire section is 649 words.)

Ruth Scurr (review date 17 September 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Scurr, Ruth. “In the Kitchen at Dusk.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5033 (17 September 1999): 21.

[In the following review, Scurr praises Tóibín's control of the narrative in The Blackwater Lightship.]

Five years before the publication of his first novel, The South (1990), Colm Tóibín interviewed the writer John McGahern for the magazine In Dublin. Passion tempered by precision, the hallmark of Tóibín's journalism and later his fiction, was manifest on this occasion in a remarkable report of a conversation about books.

He [McGahern] agrees that there is no tradition of the novel in Ireland, and no...

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Martyn Bedford (review date 11 October 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Bedford, Martyn. “Going Gently.” New Statesman 128, no. 4458 (11 October 1999): 57-8.

[In the following review, Bedford asserts that although the prose in The Blackwater Lightship can seem too sterile, the novel is overall “a fine, thoughtful, compassionate” work.]

A list of nations where a man might be glad to be gay would stretch a long way down the page before Ireland earned its place. And to be gay and dying of an Aids-related illness in rural Wexford would not be most young men's preferred route of egress from the world. But such is the lot of Declan, the fulcrum of Colm Tóibín's Booker-shortlisted novel [The Blackwater Lightship]....

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Terry Eagleton (review date 14 October 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Eagleton, Terry. “Mothering.” London Review of Books 21, no. 20 (14 October 1999): 8.

[In the following review, Eagleton offers a positive assessment of The Blackwater Lightship.]

‘You know, in my family,’ remarks a gay Irish architect in Colm Tóibín's The Blackwater Lightship, ‘my brothers and sisters—even the married ones—still haven't told my parents that they are heterosexual.’ It is a neat Wildean inversion, one of the few good jokes in this harrowing, deeply unfunny novel, and a flash of wit with wider implications. For this is a novel about Aids which is not a ‘gay’ novel, or indeed much about sexuality at all. It is about...

(The entire section is 1974 words.)

Denis Donoghue (review date 19 November 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Donoghue, Denis. “Fretting in the Other's Shadow.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5042 (19 November 1999): 21.

[In the following review, Donoghue examines Tóibín's choices for inclusion in The Penguin Book of Irish Fiction.]

In the twelfth chapter of James Joyce's Ulysses the Citizen says to Leopold Bloom: “What is your nation if I may ask?” Bloom answers: “Ireland. I was born here. Ireland.” Colm Tóibín evidently agrees with Bloom about the qualification for nationality. If you were born in Ireland, you are Irish, and you stay in that condition, even if you leave the country and have no intention of going back. Goldsmith and Sterne are...

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Kevin Myers (review date 23 June 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Myers, Kevin. “… And Famine and Hatred.” Spectator 286, no. 9020 (23 June 2001): 43-4.

[In the following review, Myers offers a positive assessment of The Irish Famine, praising the work's scholarship and wisdom.]

[The Irish Famine] is a book I opened in trepidation, not because of what I know of the authors, but because the Famine in Ireland is rather like those provocations which turned mild-mannered Bill Bixby into the Incredible Hulk, destroying cities with his teeth. The sweetest and most reasonable people can become profoundly unsweet and unreasonable when the subject of the Famine is broached, and it is not hard to see why.

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(The entire section is 742 words.)