Blasts from the Past: The Blackwater Lightship by Colm Tóibín (1999)

Cover image for The Blackwater Lightship by Colom TóibínThis is the latest in a series of occasional posts featuring books I read years ago about which I was wildly enthusiastic at the time, wanting to press a copy in as many hands as I could.

Regular readers may have gathered that I’m fan of Colm Tóibín’s writing. His name appears on my About page as an indication of the style I most admire. He’s perhaps best known for Brooklyn, thanks to the film adaptation, but I’ve chosen a novel published a decade before. Not the first Tóibín I read – that would be The Heather Blazing – but although I loved it, The Blackwater Lightship left more of an impression on me. Written in his customary spare yet lyrical style, it’s the story of a family estranged by painful loss and misunderstanding.

Helen has held herself apart from both her mother and her grandmother for years but when she learns that her beloved brother is close to death from AIDS, it falls to her to break the awful news. When Declan chooses to stay with his grandmother, the women meet in Mrs Devereux’s crumbling house by the sea joined by two of Declan’s friends. As all six of them find their way through that difficult week, they tell their stories, care for Declan, and come to find an uneasy peace with each other. Written with such grace and compassion, Tóibín’s novel has stayed with me for a very long time.

What about you, any blasts from the past you’d like to share?

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27 thoughts on “Blasts from the Past: The Blackwater Lightship by Colm Tóibín (1999)”

        1. I think I read The Heather Blazing too many moons ago, it was also probably my first by Tobin. I love the sound of this, you remind me that I haven’t read enough by this brilliant writer.

  1. I love Colm’s books, especially his earlier ones. The Magician, a more recent one, is a very good read. Very incisive regarding Thomas Mann’s life and work. A blast from the past for me is Alice Munro’s (1971) only novel called Lives of Girls and Women. Set in Canada. This book has stayed with me as one of the best books I have read

  2. I’ve read two of his books and loved them but hadn’t heard of this one, I’ll add it to my summer reading list, thanks!

  3. I read this years and years ago and loved it. My MIL lives a short drive away from the actual Blackwater, a tiny village in Co Wexford, and he has captured the rugged (damp) beauty of the place so well.

  4. Susan Kavanagh

    My daughter, son-in-law and I had a lively, almost heated discussion about this book. I would say that is a sign of a very good book. I love Toibin’s work.

  5. jenniferbeworr

    This is one I will definitely have to read someday. I didn’t get on with Toibin’s more recent Greek myth novel, House of Names I think it was called. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard that Blackwater Lightship is really special. I’ll be sure to invest, and thank you.

    1. Ah, you’re welcome, Jennifer. I’m not too fond of the Greek myth novel vogue so have avoided that one. Looking forward to the Brooklyn sequel, though.

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