Friday, February 23, 2007

the last book I read

The Heather Blazing by Colm Tóibín.

This is one of a number of novels by Colm Tóibín set in and around the town of Enniscorthy in County Wexford (the author's real-life birthplace). The title is lifted from the song "Boolavogue" which commemorates events nearby which occurred during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. [The song link also features a plinky harpsichord-y rendition of the song, whether from a real harpsichord or computer-generated I have no idea.]

Basically it's the story of Eamon Redmond, a High Court judge, as he nears retirement and reflects upon his life. This reflection takes the form of a series of flashbacks, first to his teenage years and later to his early career as a barrister in Dublin. These experiences - the death of family members in his early years, and the obligation to be dispassionate and unemotional in the course of his work - contribute to his becoming a rather cold and detached character, unable to express or articulate strong emotions even to his wife and children. There is just the suggestion of some redemption, right at the end, as his daughter and grandson come to stay with him after his wife's death.

Herein lies the only problem, which is that all this makes it slightly difficult to empathise with the main character, as we don't get much of an insight into what makes him tick. That may be the point, of course - the style of the writing is very spare and stark, no words wasted on flowery descriptions; not quite Hemingway-esque, but not far off. It's probably not the book for you if you demand either a) cheery upliftingness or b) urgent, driving narrative. If you feel you must read one Tóibín before you die, I preferred The Blackwater Lightship. That's not to say I'm not recommending this one, I'm just trying to enable an informed choice.

One final word - I bought this edition (part of the Picador Thirty series), brand new, for the princely sum of one pound sterling in the excellent Fopp shop on Park Street. They have lots and lots of good stuff; you should go.

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