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 Toibin reconstructs the history of Eamon's relationships - with his father, his first 'girl', his wife and the children who barely know him.
He gives us a family as minutely realised as any of John McGahern's and he writes about Eamon's affection for the Irish coast with such painterly skill that the land itself becomes a character.
About the Author
Colm Toibin was born in Ireland in 1955. He is the author of The South, The Heather Blazing, The Story of the Night, The Blackwater Lightship and most recently The Master, which was short-listed for the 2004 Man Booker Prize. His non-fiction includes Bad Blood, Homage to Barcelona and The Sign of the Cross. His work has been translated into seventeen languages. He lives in Dublin.
Toibin's debut (The South, 1991) followed its heroine, a married Irishwoman on the lam, through a cycle of gain and loss; his downbeat second novel, the portrait of a Dublin judge, is all loss, no gain. An only child, Eamon Redmond lost his mother in infancy (she died in 1934). Raised by his undomesticated schoolteacher father in a small Irish town, he learned early on to be self-sufficient. His grandfather had been imprisoned by the British; his father had also participated in the struggle for independence. Eamon joins their party, Fianna Fail, and establishes his legal career through political contacts. While Eamon's still a teenager, his father has a stroke, driving the schoolboy deeper into solitude. His future wife Carmel (they meet during a campaign) finds his reserve charming, at first, but she will never break it down, and years later (after she herself has had a stroke) she cries out, "You don't love me...you don't love any of us." (That "us" refers to their grown children, son Donal and daughter Niamh, estranged from their father since adolescence.) Eamon, then, is the coldest of cold fish; even at the end, after Carmel's death, he stirs little sympathy. Meanwhile, Toibin gives us present and past in alternate chapters; Eamon as a senior High Court judge, sharp-tongued on the bench but placidly uncommunicative with Carmel while summering at the shore, is contrasted with Eamon as a child. The technique hurts the story, and Toibin's undernourished prose lowers the temperature even further. At one point, pondering his most important judgment, Eamon realizes "he was not equipped to be a moral arbiter." Could this be a career crisis? But, no, the moment passes - another in a series of missed opportunities that doom the novel. (Kirkus Reviews)