Eamon Redmond is a judge in Ireland’s high court, a completely legal creature who is just beginning to discover how painfully unconnected he is from other human beings. With effortless fluency, Colm Tóibín reconstructs the history of Eamon’s relationships - with his father, his first "girl", his wife, and the children who barely know him - and he writes about Eamon’s affection for the Irish coast with such painterly skill that the land itself becomes a character. The result is a novel of stunning power, "seductive and absorbing" (USA Today).
©2012 Colm Toibin (P)2012 Simon & Schuster
"[A] stunning Irish novel, which seems to derive its clear and affecting style in part from the staunch personality of its protagonist...and in part from the chilly beauty of the south-east coast of Ireland." (The New Yorker)
"This lovely, understated novel proceeds with stately grace." (Alice McDermott, The Washington Post Book World)
"The more one thinks about this clear-headed yet intense book, the stronger the impression it leaves." (Los Angeles Times Book Review)
Eamon Redmond, the narrator of The Heather Blazing, is a middle-aged Irish judge nearing retirement. The novel opens as he and his wife return to their County Wexford family home from Dublin where Eamon works on a ruling in the controversial case of an pregnant unmarried teacher who was fired from her position at a Catholic school. Most of the novel is composed of Eamon's reminiscences of his earlier life in Enniscothy (Toibin's home town): his grandfather's and uncle's deaths, his schooldays, his father's launching of a museum and his later stroke, his first sexual experiences and falling in love with his wife, his political activities and early days as a government prosecutor, etc. These memories are interwoven with present-day episodes involving his wife Carmel and his adult children, Maeve and Donal.
One repeated refrain is Carmel's complaint that Eamon seems "distant" and her unsuccessful efforts to break through his reserve. The closest he comes is early in their marriage, when he admits that, his mother having died when he was a baby, he grew up to be self-sufficient, believing that if he ever had to ask anyone for something, they would likely refuse. "No one ever wanted me," he tearfully confesses. Yet decades later, as Carmel struggles to speak after a stroke, she tells him, "We need to talk. You are always so distant. You never tell me anything. You don't love me. You don't love the children." I have to admit that I was a bit mystified by her complaint, having been privy to a lot of Eamon's thoughts, feelings, and concerns, and having seen him caring tenderly for his ailing wife, grieving after her death, and reaching out to his children in his loneliness. There are, after all, a lot of ways to express love besides talking about one's feelings, and Eamon seemed to me a good man who was devoted to his family.
This is not a book with a powerhouse plot and lots of action: it's a quiet revelation of and meditation on a life. The afterward reveals, as I suspected all along, that much of it was based on episodes from Toibin's own life, although he insists that Eamon is a totally fictitious character. Toibin's writing is moving and insightful, his love of Ireland and small town Irish culture apparent. A lovely book overall.
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