Mothers and Sons

Mothers and Sons

by Colm Toibin


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With dazzling brilliance and empathy, Colm Tóibín's collection of stories wrestles with complicated themes of emotional restraint, the long reach of sexual repression, and the difficulty of escaping one's past.

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 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781416534662
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 01/01/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 616,495
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Colm Tóibín is the author of ten 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 and several books of criticism. He is the Irene and Sidney B. Silverman Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University. Three times shortlisted for the 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

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.

Table of Contents


The Use of Reason

A Song

The Name of the Game

Famous Blue Raincoat

A Priest in the Family

A Journey

Three Friends

A Summer Job

A Long Winter

One Minus One

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