The Heather Blazing Critical Essays

Colm Tóibín

The Heather Blazing

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Colm Toibin’s THE HEATHER BLAZING exhibits the sense of place that distinguishes his novel THE SOUTH and his travel books HOMAGE TO BARCELONA and WALKING ALONG THE BORDER. In this novel, the protagonist Eamon Redmond, a judge in the Irish High Court in Dublin, is seen mostly through his perception of where he is and what the weather is at the time. His many flashbacks are steeped in this feeling for environment, which seems more expressive than his feelings for people.

Each of the novel’s three parts begins with a legal judgment Redmond makes and ends with an event in his personal life. His first judgment states that the plaintiff, a mentally disabled child, has no right to indefinite “free hospital treatment.” This judgment, like the others he makes in the novel, ends the court’s term, and he goes to his summer house in Cush with his wife, Carmel. She tells him that their unmarried daughter Niamh is pregnant, and though the child in his ruling and the child in his daughter do little to rouse his sympathy, they seem to trigger his memory of his own childhood.

In alternate chapters, the novel shows Redmond growing up. Early on, he is isolated from the people who surround him, for he is an only child, his mother is dead, and his father is always busy—as a teacher, grading papers, and as a member of the Fianna Fail Party, organizing and canvassing. As he learns in his father’s class in school “to wait, to be quiet, to sit still,” he decides to keep his feelings to...

(The entire section is 616 words.)