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The Empty Family

One of the things I like about Colm Tóibín is how he gives depth to stereotypical gay characters, to give hope to hopelessness.

In "Barcelona 1975," there is a possibility of love between two men in an orgy. They met on and off that year, but eventually, the narrator didn't hold on to him, and the other party fell in love with someone else. It would seem to be sad... but the last sentence is "I was ready, once more, for anything." The narrator seems to have learnt from his mistake, and can take on the next relationship.

In "The Street," he imagines how gay Pakistanis can have a happy ending in such a homophobic culture. I didn't think he was particularly successful in this one, because he didn't explain the motivation of the Super who acts like a godlike figure to bring them together.

"The Pearl Fishers," a title taken from opera, is most successful. There are so many things I want to say about the story. About the depiction of the nameless narrator. But I am too lazy. So here is an extract:

Across the city I imagine Gráinne and Donnacha driving to their home in Terenure; I imagined her going over the evening, indignant about some of the things said, satisfied at others. And Donnacha in the driver's seat nodding mildly, making the odd amused remark, or turning serious when a matter of fact was in dispute. I imagined the drive of their house where the car could be parked, the single tree, the flower beds, the mowed lawn, the PVC French windows leading from the dining room to the long back garden. Their sons up watching television. I imagined her in the kitchen, where they kept the computer, making tea and Donnacha sitting with the boys not saying much. I thought of the two of them going up to bed, wishing the boys goodnight, a biography of someone or other on the table at Donnacha's side of the bed, some new books about Ireland and its ways on the table on the other side where Gráinne slept. I imagined lamplight, shadows, soft voices, clothes put away, the low sound of late news on radio. And I thought as I crossed the bridge at Baggot street to face the last stretch of my own journey home that no matter what I had done, I had not done that. No matter how grim the city I walked through was, how cavernous my attic rooms, hour long and solitary the night to come, I would not exchange any of it for the easy rituals of mutuality and closeness that Gráinne and Donnacha were performing now. I checked my pocket to make sure I had my keys with me and almost smiled to myself at the bar thought that I had not forgotten them.