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The Blackwater Lightship
COLM TÓIBÍN

The Blackwater Lightship by Colm Tóibín
39 reviews (1999) (288p)
Man Booker Prize Finalist

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Book Description

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. Hailed as "a genuine work of art" (Chicago Tribune), this is a novel about the capacity of stories to heal the deepest wounds.


Amazon.com Review
In the opening pages of The Blackwater Lightship, a stranger drives up to Helen O'Doherty's Dublin house to tell her that her brother Declan is in the hospital and needs to see her. At his request, she joins him at the creepy seaside house of their grandmother--where, as children, they awaited news of their dying father. What's more, they're not the only guests. Paul and Larry, friends of Declan who have known about his HIV diagnosis far longer than his family, are the next to arrive. And then comes Helen's estranged mother Lily, whom she hasn't seen in years. Still angry over the emotional abandonment she suffered during her youth, Helen had refused even to invite Lily to her wedding. Now she must come to terms not only with the imminent death of her beloved brother but also with her mother and grandmother--all at once.

Colm Tóibín (The Story of the Night) delivers this unsentimental account of a troubled family in spare but suggestive language. He does allow his characters a few high-spirited remarks and the occasional outburst. Otherwise, though, he keeps his tone even, allowing for the perfect integration of a light, unforced symbolism. For Lily, broken hopes and dreams are bound up with the Blackwater Lightship, one of two lighthouses that once stood in the Irish Sea near Ballyconnigar. As a child, she believed that these would always be there:

Tuskar was a man and the Blackwater Lightship was a woman and they were both sending signals to each other and to other lighthouses, like mating calls. He was forceful and strong and she was weaker but more constant, and sometimes she began to shine her light before darkness had really fallen.
For Helen, on the other hand, it was the house itself that prompted her deepest, happiest fantasies. But now Lily has sold the property and shattered Helen's dream that "it would be her refuge, and that her mother, despite everything, would be there for her and would take her in and shelter her and protect her. She had never entertained this thought before; now, she knew that it was irrational and groundless, but nonetheless ... she knew that it was real and it explained everything." What Declan has done by drawing them all together at Granny's house is to enact this potent, poignant fantasy. Whether it has the power to reconstruct his family is another matter, but in any case, The Blackwater Lightship remains a gripping narrative, deftly delivered by a master storyteller. --Regina Marler


Other Award Winning Books by Colm Tóibín
Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín
518 reviews (2014) (384p) (Amazon Top100) (NYT100)
Read Reviews | Visit this book's Amazon.com page
The Empty Family: Stories by Colm Tóibín
43 reviews (2011) (288p) (Amazon Top100) (LJ Top10)
Read Reviews | Visit this book's Amazon.com page
Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín
222 reviews (2009) (272p) (Amazon) (ALA)
Read Reviews | Visit this book's Amazon.com page
The Master by Colm Tóibín
152 reviews (2004) (352p) (Booker) (NYTimes) (LATimes) (TIME)
Read Reviews | Visit this book's Amazon.com page

Colm Tóibín Award Stats
Major Prize* Nominations 3  
Unique Books Nominated for a Major Prize* 3  
Pulitzer Prize Wins 0  
Pulitzer Prize Nominations 0  
National Book Critics Circle Award Wins 0  
National Book Critics Circle Award Nominations 0  
National Book Award Wins 0  
National Book Award Nominations 0  
Man Booker Prize Wins 0  
Man Booker Prize Nominations 2 The Blackwater Lightship · The Master ·  
PEN/Faulkner Award Wins 0  
PEN/Faulkner Award Nominations 0  

*Major Prize = Pulitzer Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award, National Book Award, Man Booker Prize, and PEN/Faulkner Award

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Pulitzer Prize | National Book Critics Circle Award | National Book Award | PEN/Faulkner Award | Man Booker Prize | Contact