Review of 'The Blackwater Lightship'

The Blackwater Lightship: a novel by Colm Toibin reviewed by The Round Table Reading Group affiliated to Pearse Street Library.

This story is about three generations of women, Helen, her mother Lily and her grandmother Mrs. Devereux all of whom have a fraught relationship with one another.

The backdrop to the story is Helen's brother Declan who is diagnosed with AIDS. As his illness progresses, Declan's friends provide a highly supportive network for him, highlighting the absence of a warmer family relationship. It is the final stages of Declan's illness that brings the three women together.

The characterisation of Declan's friends, Paul and Larry, and that of the grandmother, are strong and present some lovely scenes. Lily and Helen's characters are less developed. However, one particularly moving scene is where the school-girl Helen, having just heard her father has died, returns to the family home and lays out his suit and shoes on the bed as if he were still alive.

Collapsing relationships are symbolised well by the crumbling land and the two lighthouses, one that works and one that doesn't. Family relationships depend on people forgiving the past allowing them to move forward into the future. The choice is in everyone's hands.

The strength of the book is that the reader is left wondering what happens after the story ends. While the issue of AIDS is ever present, it is not laboured.

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