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Hugo Young

24 November 1994
The Sign of the Cross: Travels in Catholic Europe 
by Colm Tóibín.
Cape, 296 pp., £16.99, October 1994, 0 224 03767 6
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... In Kiev in 1992, ColmTóibín met the Bishop of Zhytomir, who was dressed in his full regalia. ‘He had that wonderful, well-fed, lived-in look that reminded me of several Irish bishops.’ The Bishop surely personified the ...

Mothering

Terry Eagleton: The Blackwater Lightship by Colm Tóibín

14 October 1999
The Blackwater Lightship 
by Colm Tóibín.
Picador, 273 pp., £15, September 1999, 0 330 38985 8
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... You know, in my family,’ remarks a gay Irish architect in ColmTóibín’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 ...
11 October 1990
The Dwarfs 
by Harold Pinter.
Faber, 183 pp., £11.99, October 1990, 0 571 14446 2
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The Comfort of Strangers, and Other Screenplays 
by Harold Pinter.
Faber, 226 pp., £14.99, September 1990, 0 571 14419 5
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The Circus Animals 
by James Plunkett.
Hutchinson, 305 pp., £12.99, September 1990, 0 09 173530 0
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The South 
by Colm Tóibín.
Serpent’s Tail, 238 pp., £7.99, May 1990, 1 85242 170 3
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... life as a busy, beautiful entertainment, cruelly disciplined. The South is another Irish novel much concerned with sojourning abroad, the dangers and the alienation. We are in the Fifties again (Colm Toibin was born in 1955), concerned not with Communist Russia but with Fascist Spain. The artistic Katherine has abandoned her husband and ten-year-old son in Ireland and escaped to Barcelona. Her ...

Short Cuts

Colm Tóibín: In Barcelona

6 September 2017
... Joan Miró,​ the Catalan painter, who was 82 when Franco died in 1975, had spent the previous 35 years in a sort of internal exile in Palma de Mallorca. Now that the dictator was dead, he was free to come to Barcelona as much as he wanted. He did a poster for the Barça football club; he designed record sleeves for young Catalan singers; he did the costumes for a young theatre group. He loved the ...

Thick Description

Nicholas Spice

24 June 1993
The Heather Blazing 
by Colm Tóibín.
Picador, 245 pp., £14.99, September 1992, 0 330 32124 2
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... styles is infinite. Density can be achieved in a simple sentence as well as in an elaborate one. So a fairer comparison for the sentences from the Granta and Faber anthologies might be the work of ColmTóibín, a contemporary of the authors represented there, and like them, a practitioner of the art of bald prose. The relation of text to representation in The Heather Blazing, Tóibín’s second ...

The Coldest Place on Earth

Liam McIlvanney: Colm Tóibín’s ‘Brooklyn’

25 June 2009
Brooklyn 
by Colm Tóibín.
Viking, 252 pp., £17.99, April 2009, 978 0 670 91812 6
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... job in a grocery, until an Irish-American priest, home on holiday, suggests that she move to his parish in Brooklyn. Father Flood will sponsor her passage and find her a job. If Father Rossiter in ColmTóibín’s second novel, The Heather Blazing, ‘hated to see people emigrating’, Father Flood is all for it. He wants to see Eilis working in an office, not wasting her youth in a corner shop. A ...

The Built-in Reader

Colm Tóibín

8 April 1993
Dream of Fair to Middling Women 
by Samuel Beckett, edited by Eoin O’Brien and Edith Fournier.
Black Cat, 241 pp., £18.99, November 1992, 0 7145 4212 1
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... There is a moment in Samuel Beckett’s story ‘The Expelled’ in which the hero watches a funeral pass: Personally if I were reduced to making the sign of the cross I would set my heart on doing it right, nose, navel, left nipple, right nipple. But the way they did it, slovenly and wild, he seemed crucified all of a heap, no dignity, his knees under his chin and his hands anyhow ... As for the ...

Insiderish

Colm Tóibín

26 May 1994
Profane Friendship 
by Harold Brodkey.
Cape, 387 pp., £15.99, April 1994, 0 224 03775 7
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... One of the early chapters in Harold Brodkey’s first novel The Runaway Soul is entitled ‘The River’. The narrator, after his father’s death, returns to a landscape which he had known in early childhood. Some of the prose is plain and clear: ‘At the mouth of the stream, where it emptied into the inlet, under willows, lay a very large, ungainly river dinghy. It was greenish and heavy, made of ...
20 April 1995
Shelf Life: Essays, Memoirs and an Interview 
by Thom Gunn.
Faber, 230 pp., £14.99, July 1994, 0 571 17196 6
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... Fame is difficult for a writer to deal with,’ Thom Gunn writes in his essay on Allen Ginsberg’s poetry. ‘It dries you up, or it makes you think you are infallible, or your writing becomes puffed out with self-esteem. (Victor Hugo thought himself superior to both Jesus and Shakespeare.) It is a complication that the imagination can well do without.’ It is the spring of 1993. Gunn is on the ...

Dissecting the Body

Colm Tóibín: Ian McEwan

26 April 2007
On Chesil Beach 
by Ian McEwan.
Cape, 166 pp., £12.99, April 2007, 978 0 224 08118 4
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... The penis, in the contemporary novel, has been a mighty matter, looming large. Who will forget the narrator of The Bell Jar seeing an adult penis for the first time and being both fascinated and repelled? (‘The only thing I could think of was turkey neck and turkey gizzards and I felt very depressed.’) Or Fermina Daza, in a darkened room in García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, announcing ...

The lighthouse stares back

Matthew Bevis: Tóibín​ on Bishop

7 January 2016
On Elizabeth Bishop 
by Colm Tóibín.
Princeton, 209 pp., £13.95, March 2015, 978 0 691 15411 4
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... the hider, who is doing the counting. ‘Doesn’t it annoy you a little,’ Bishop asked Robert Lowell, ‘when people hand you back, like an obligation, flat statements of what you “meant”?’ ColmTóibín avoids this temptation. On Elizabeth Bishop is an engaging introduction to her life and work, and also an essay on the importance of her work in his life. May Swenson told Bishop that, when ...

Echoes and Whisperings

Colin Burrow: Colm Tóibín’s ‘Oresteia’

31 May 2017
House of Names 
by Colm Tóibín.
Viking, 262 pp., £12.99, May 2017, 978 0 241 25768 5
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... effect both on what is spoken and what is pointedly left unspoken, and which depends so much on the slippage between what is said and what is seen – be transposed into a novel? That’s the aim of ColmTóibín’s rewriting of the Oresteia in House of Names. It’s a bit like one of those high dives with an enormous degree of difficulty – a quadruple backflip with twist – where the possibility ...

The Sacred Cause of Idiom

Frank Kermode: Lady Gregory

22 January 2004
Lady Gregory's Toothbrush 
by Colm Tóibín.
Picador, 127 pp., £7.99, September 2003, 0 330 41993 5
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... difference between us and them, gentry and peasant, or so Lady Gregory suggested when she made the remark – jocular, perhaps, and not the sort of sally she would have chosen to be remembered by. ColmTóibín makes more than one allusion to it in this essay, gently hinting that his sympathies are with the toothbrushless, though there is no place for anger in his elegant little study of the great ...

A House Full of No One

Colm Tóibín

6 February 1997
Heaven’s Coast: A Memoir 
by Mark Doty.
Cape, 305 pp., £16.99, October 1996, 0 224 04390 0
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Atlantis 
by Mark Doty.
Cape, 95 pp., £7, July 1996, 0 224 04400 1
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This Wild Darkness: The Story of My Death 
by Harold Brodkey.
Fourth Estate, 177 pp., £14.99, November 1996, 1 85702 546 6
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PWA: Looking Aids in the Face 
by Oscar Moore.
Picador, 185 pp., £6.99, November 1996, 0 330 35193 1
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... The words ‘HIV Positive’ and ‘Aids’ do not appear in the poems in Mark Doty’s My Alexandria (1995); instead, they hover in the spaces between the other words, and they govern the tone of almost every poem. Now, with the appearance of Heaven’s Coast: A Memoir, we know that Doty’s boyfriend Wally Roberts was dying slowly from Aids when these poems were being written. Doty also kept a diary ...

Diary

Colm Tóibín: In the Pyrenees

6 January 1994
... Towards the end of November 1975 I was doing my shopping in the Boquería market off the Ramblas in Barcelona when I bumped into Bernard Loughlin, with whom I worked in an institution called the Dublin School of English. To mourn the passing of Generalissimo Franco on 20 November we had all been given ten days off. I had spent them in the city, wandering around in search of riots, old bars and potential ...

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