The sea is slowly eating into the land and the hill with the old watchtower has completely disappeared. The nearest house has crumbled and fallen into the sea. It is Ireland in the late twentieth century. Eamon Redmond is a judge in the Irish High Court. Obsessed all his life by the letter and spirit of the law, he is just beginning to discover how painfully unconnected he is from other human beings. With effortless fluency, Colm Toibin reconstructs the history of Eamon's relationships - with his father, his first "girl," his wife, and the children who barely know him. He gives us a family as minutely realized as any of John McGahern's, and he writes about Eamon's affection for the landscape of his childhood on the east coast of Ireland with such skill that the land itself becomes a character. The result is a novel that ensnares us with its emotional intensity and dazzles with its crystalline prose. In The Heather Blazing, Colm Toibin displays once again the gifts that illuminated The South, a book described by Don DeLillo as "a grand achievement," and by John Banville as "a daring imaginative feat...a splendid first novel."
Irish novelist Toibin here follows up his Irish Times /Aer Lingus Irish Literature Award-winning first book, The South , with another extended study in paralysis--not the physical kind, but rather the willed emotional stasis that James Joyce, in a famous formulation, contended gripped the Irish soul. The hero here is Eamon Redmond, a High Court judge in Dublin who is readying for retirement. He and his wife, Carmel, are thinking of moving permanently to the south coast, near Enniscorthy, a place filled with childhood memories for them both. As they contemplate the joys of their autumn years, strains in their relations emerge: their unwed daughter announces she is pregnant; Eamon writes an unpopular opinion in a civil rights case; and Carmine accuses Eamon of always having been distant (``You sound bored. It is one of the things that you have learned to do over the years''). Toibin's acclaimed prose style--measured and restrained as a Victorian memoir yet poetic in precision--makes a character of the brooding, enigmatic Irish weather and gives voice to the darker side of the Irish character. As in Joyce's stories in Dubliners , the proceedings lead to an epiphany of sorts, as Eamon finds himself doting on his grandson at the shore. A small advance in the moral education of Eamon Redmond, yes; but under Toibin's generous, forgiving gaze, the moment rings profound. (Feb.)