This novel is an intense examination of Colm Toibin's signature themes: death, loss, illness and morality. However, if the themes are a continuance from his previous books, the style is a distinct departure from the lyrical prose of The Story of the Night and The Heather Blazing. In The Blackwater Lightship Toibin strips his style down to spare sentences, and what is said is bleaker: "It was clear to her now that it did not matter whether there were people or not--the world would go on. Imaginings and resonances and pains and small longings, they meant nothing against the hardness of the sea." It is almost as if he is writing us and himself, as the novelist, out of the picture. The familiar poetry of landscape: "the sudden rise in the road and then the first view of the sea glinting in the slanted summer light", is all that is left.
There is not much plot, the book concentrates on the gradual unfolding of talk between the Devereux clan, and two friends of Declan's, who have fine lines of catty commentary. Dora asks: "Is there a need to rake over everything?" But words, even bitter ones, are shaky constants, when everything else is crumbling. This puts a lot of pressure on the prose; when it works well it's charged with suppressed emotion, strangely lulling in its determination to be quiet and ordinary. But sometimes its simplicity makes the book a little static, threatening to becalm the reader. The Blackwater Lightship is a book about the frailty of human experiences, in the face of indifferent nature: "soon they would only be a memory, and that too would fade with time." Toibin deals with the tricky balance between hopefulness and hopelessness with elegant economy, and very few stumbles. --Eithne Farry...Continua