Here is a volume of short stories, some of which are haunting , concise and absolutely perfect in evoking the sense of familial ties so alive at the time of a parent's death, of returing home ( in Ireland in this case ) or the view of a familiar neighborhood of one's childhood and of an empty house…..What makes these stories so great ? Moments of Time gone by and lived intensely appear all of a sudden in a memory as precise as an engraving , shining and lingering in the narrator's mind , often bathed in nostalgia .Toibin is the master of nostalgia . At his mother's death bed he knows that it is no longer possible to spend more time with her during the summer's holidays, he feels guilty : » …May be, I was not as good a son as my brother and sister were « nd then « .. she was always so dignified and calm .. » There are no tears and no outporing of grief . Just these simple sentences with everyday words, unadorned, functional even, which are marvelously coined and arouse the reader's emotions in an oblique manner.It is a rare gift .
Proust and James both could achieve a poetic atmosphere and a peak of emotions in the intimate realm but with an impressive syntactic baggage : interminable sentences,cohorts of periphrases and triplicate adjectives in subordonate phrases …all of this required effort and linguistic talent, and a great deal of patience .Toibin here is different, he achieves perfection, a sort of Hemingway lesson of brevity and austerity ,in these very personal short stories, some of which are incredibly short but inscribe themselves in our own memory.
The first stories such as « One minus One », « Silence » and « The Empty Family « are small gems , unique and perfect in a genre : the intimate moments which remain discrete, understated even, but intense. Other stories which deal with gay sexual experiments or even prowesses of adolescence are strange and surprising in their expliciteness and crude descriptions as if the author revelled in his own boldness. But there are exceptions in this vein .One marvelous and tragic story deals with an impossible suffering : an homosexual love affair between two Pakistani immigrants , illegals, who work like slaves in a horribly repressive country where not a moment of human happiness or dignity is possible, everything happens in the dark and in hiding. Toibin manages to create a painful suspense in the slow, secretive, mute manner of asiatic cultures, with almost no speech and gestures alone, a moment of human closeness and consolation that elevates this awful tale of woe to an examplary level .
Another story in a totally different domain descibes a wealthy marriage of convenience between an old illustrious titled man and a young poor woman in the London of 1900 ; this is amusing and not dramatic but marvelously studied : in fact it is a small novel of manners with Henry James as a character , appearing naturally as a dinner Guest and marvelouly entertaining We have here a variety of talents , literary genres , tones of the Narrator's voice , a palette of human experiences and tales which show us what a remarkable and accomplished writer Colm Toibin has become.