The New York Times
Mothers and Sonsby Colm Toibin
Each of the nine stories in this beautifully written, intensely intimate collection centers on a transformative moment that alters the delicate balance of power between mother and son, or changes the way they perceive one another. With exquisite grace and eloquence, Tóibín writes of men and women bound by convention, by unspoken emotions, by the stronghold of the past. Many are trapped in lives they would not choose again, if they ever chose at all.
A man buries his mother and converts his grief to desire in one night. A famous singer captivates an audience, yet cannot beguile her own estranged son. And in "A Long Winter," Colm Tóibín's finest piece of fiction to date, a young man searches for his mother in the snow-covered mountains where she has sought escape from the husband who controls and confines her.
Winner of numerous awards for his fifth novel, The Master -- including the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award -- Tóibín brings to this stunning first collection an acute understanding of human frailty and longing. These are haunting, profoundly moving stories by a writer who is himself a master.
The New York Times
The Washington Post
"Tóibín is a writer of extraordinary emotional clarity....These are beautiful stories, beautifully crafted."
Literary Review (uk)
"Tóibín is a subtle, intelligent and deeply felt writer."
- McClelland & Stewart Ltd.
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.40(w) x 8.37(h) x 0.80(d)
- Age Range:
- 3 Months
Read an Excerpt
On the Monday, when the others had gone to the hotel for lunch, Fergus stayed alone with his mother’s body in the funeral parlour. She would, he knew, have so far enjoyed her own funeral. The hush of conversation with old friends, the conjuring up of memories, the arrival of people she would not have seen for years, all of this would have put a gleam into her eyes. But she would not, he thought, have enjoyed being alone now in the shadowy candlelight with her son, all the life gone out of her. She was not enjoying herself now, he thought.
He was tempted to whisper to her some words of comfort, to say that she would be all right, that she was at peace. He stood up and looked at her. Her dead face had none of her live face’s softness. He hoped some day he would be able to forget what she looked like as she lay inert in her coffin, with faint traces of an old distress behind the mask of stillness and peace and immobility. The undertakers or the nurses who had laid her out had made her chin seem firmer and more settled, almost pointed at the end with strange creases. If she spoke now, he knew, her old chin would come back, her old voice, her old smile. But that was all gone now; anyone seeing her for the first time would never know her. She was beyond knowing, he thought, and suddenly realized that he was going to cry.
When he heard the noise of feet outside, a man’s heavy shoes against the concrete, he felt almost surprised that someone should come now to break his vigil with her. He had been sitting there as though the door were closed and he could not be disturbed.
The man who appeared was middle-aged and tall; he walked with a slight stoop. He had a mild, modest look; Fergus was sure that he had never seen him before. He paid no attention to Fergus as he moved towards the coffin with a stiff reverence, blessing himself, and then reaching down gently to touch the dead woman’s forehead. He had the look of someone from the town, not a neighbour, Fergus felt, but someone she must have known years earlier. Being on display like this, being touched by anyone who came, would, he knew, have horrified his mother, but she had only a few more hours of it before the coffin would be closed and taken to the cathedral.
The man sat down beside him, still watching his mother’s face, gazing at it as though waiting for it to do something in the flickering candlelight. Fergus almost smiled to himself at the idea of telling the man that there was no point in looking at her so intensely, she was dead. The man turned to him as he blessed himself again and offered his large hand and his open-faced sympathy.
‘I’m very sorry for your trouble.’
‘Thank you,’ Fergus replied. ‘It was very good of you to come.’
‘She’s very peaceful,’ the man said.
‘She is,’ Fergus replied.
‘She was a great lady,’ the man said.
Fergus nodded. He knew that the man would now have to wait for at least ten minutes before he could decently go. He wished that he would introduce himself or give some clue about his identity. They sat in silence looking at the coffin.
As the time elapsed, it seemed odd to Fergus that no one else came. The others surely would have finished at the hotel; his mother’s friends had come all morning, and some relatives. It made no sense that all of them had left this gap for Fergus and a stranger to sit so uneasily beside each other for so long. This stretch of time appeared to Fergus to belong to a dark dream which took them out of all familiar elements into a place of dim, shimmering lights, uncomfortable silence, the unending, dull and neutral realm of the dead. As the man cleared his throat, Fergus glanced at him and saw in his dry skin and his pale face further evidence that these minutes did not belong to ordinary time, that they both had been dragged away by his mother’s spirit into a place of shadows.
Meet the Author
Colm Tóibín is the author of seven novels, including The Master, winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; Brooklyn, winner of the Costa Book Award; The Testament of Mary, and Nora Webster, as well as two story collections. Three times shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Tóibín lives in Dublin and New York.
- Dublin, Ireland
- Date of Birth:
- May 30, 1955
- Place of Birth:
- Enniscorthy, County Wexford, Ireland
- St. Peter's College, Wexford; University College, Dublin, B.A. in English and history
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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This is not what I expected and never finished the book.
Mothers and Sons is a collection of short stories by Colm Toibin that range from the mundane to the bizarre. The stories are not all to my liking, but those that are keep me riveted to my seat. This is a great book for those long air plane trips if you, like me, find it hard to sleep and you've already seen all the movies.
One of our most intensely refined and challenging writers of the day, Colm Tóibín presents a new set of nine short stories correlated by the theme and title of mothers and sons, stories that mine the always fascinating relationship between mothers and sons, both positive and negative sides. This is writing of such apparent simplicity that the craftsmanship of his work is taken for granted - the mark of a truly fine writer. Here is a collection of stories to be read slowly, allowing time to digest each experience fully before moving on to the next. 'The Use of Reason' explores a son's theft of valuable art and the consequences of his actions result in a confrontation with his alcoholic mother that supercedes the criminal act. In the brief 'The Song' a young musician almost mistakenly hears his miscreant mother singing a ballad that should erase years of desertion just as in 'Famous Blue Raincoat' the son discovers songs his mother recorded with her hippie sister before disaster struck the drug-impacted band. In 'The Name of the Game' a mother attempts to recover the errors of her deceased husband in making a life for her son, unknowingly at odds with her son's true needs and goals. A mother faces the infamy of her priest son when his history of sexual abuse surfaces in 'A Priest in the Family', and in 'A Summer Job' the devotion of a son to his grandmother overshadows his relationship to his mother. In 'Three Friends' and 'A Long Winter' Tóibín delicately and with subtle sensitivity introduces same sex themes to embroider stories of strong and powerful tales. For this reader 'A Long Winter' (the longest of the stories) is so excellent it could be stretched into an entire novel! Tóibín finds unique lines of communication among his characters, some with words, others with quiescent descriptors, and the flow of his use of the English language peppered with bits and pieces of both Irish culture and Spanish concepts (in 'The Long Winter') is lyrical, pungent and abundantly enriching to read. His mind is fertile and his style of writing is full of grace and feeling. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp