Upon learning that her brother Declan is dying of AIDS, Helen must come back to the family home to face some of the relatives she had tried to get out of her life.
The Blackwater Lightship , my first Tóibín, is above all a very subtle book, so it is better not to expect a number of shocking family secrets to be revealed by the end of it. But because the emotions described are never overly dramatic, they ring particularly true to anyone familiar with family tensions that have been repressed over the years.
The center of Tóibín's book is Declan's physical suffering and the quiet fear of a wasted life it awakens among his relatives. The author masterfully uses his claustrophobic setting, as well as the theme of light and shadow introduced by the very title, to create a haunting atmosphere. There's not much to say about this novel, beyond the fact that it is very well written and touching, and a non-preachy warning against the unspoken resentments that eat away so many of us.
I'm looking forward to reading another of the author's books.