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About Colm Toibin

Irish author Colm Tóibín is famous for literary works about Irish society, creativity and homosexuality. His most popular novels include The Blackwater Lightship and The Master.


Irish writer Colm Tóibín, born in 1955, worked as a journalist before achieving fame as a fiction writer. His works often depict Irish society and explore themes of creativity and homosexuality. His most famous novels include The Blackwater Lightship and The Master.


Born in 1955 in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, Ireland. The second youngest of five children, Colm Tóibín graduated from University College in Dublin in 1975. He then headed to Barcelona, the city that later inspired his first novel, The South, and the non-fiction work Homage to Barcelona, both published in 1990. During the 1980s, he worked as a journalist, first in Ireland and then in Argentina, the Sudan and Egypt.

Colm Tóibín's works often depict Irish society. He is the author of several works of fiction, including The Heather Blazing (1992), The Story of the Night(1996) and The Blackwater Lightship (1999), which was on the short list for the Booker Prize. The New York Times named his 2004 novel, The Master, one of the 10 most notable books of the year.

Colm Tóibín published his first collection of short stories, Mothers and Sons, in 2006. Non-fiction books include Bad Blood: A Walk Along the Irish Border(1994) and The Sign of the Cross: Travels in Catholic Europe (1994). He continues to work as a novelist, journalist, literary critic and university lecturer.

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It is Ireland in the early 1990s. Helen, her mother, Lily, and her grandmother, Dora have come together to tend to Helen's brother, Declan, who is dying of AIDS. With Declan's two friends, the six of them are forced to plumb the shoals of their own histories and to come to terms with each other.

Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, The Blackwater Lightship is a deeply resonant story about three generations of an estranged family reuniting to mourn an untimely death. In spare, luminous prose, Colm Tóibín explores the nature of love and the complex emotions inside a family at war with itself.

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Colm Toibin in conversation. At Sydney Writers' Festival 2010

Review of The Blackwater Lightship

The Blackwater Lightship" by Colm Toibin tells the story of a married woman in Ireland, estranged from her family, who is forced to contact her mother after not speaking to her for ten years. Her brother, Declan, mortally ill with Aids, desires to die surrounded by his loved ones. 

Helen, not wishing to reunite with her mother Lily, and explain the nature of Declan's illness at the same time, visits her grandmother Dora who lives on the coast of the Irish Sea. 

It was here, some years ago, that Helen had brought her two young sons to meet her mother who never appeared, and it was here, that she and her brother were sent while her mother nursed her father until he died, when they were children. 

The story unwinds slowly under grandmother's roof, as Helen talkes to the Declan's friends who have come to nurse him. Helen tells how she had to work for her grandmother who ran the house as a bed and breakfast while she attended University.When Helen graduated,her mother and grandmother wanted her to return to her hometown to teach and continue working at the resort during the summer, but Helen made other plans. 

But Lily's story is more riveting, as she explains to Helen,as the revulsion she had for Aids and Declan's friends turns to compassion for her son and appreciation for the nursing the friends bestow on Declan. 

On one of the walks along the sea, Lily points out the Tuscan Rock lighthouse, and explains that there used to be another one, the Blackwater Lightship."I used to believe that Tuskar was a man and Blackwater was a woman. He was forceful and strong, and she was weaker but more constant." Lily told Helen,"I thought your father would live forever." 

Helen reconciles with her mother and promises to bring her children to visit. Until now, she had associated love with loss, but realized that her mother had loved her father deeply, and did not know how to express her grief. Declan's illness forces all the characters, Helen, Lily, and her grandmother to come to terms with life.   

The review of this Book prepared by Betty-Jeanne Korson