The Blackwater Lightship. I thought it would always be there. -From The Blackwater Lightship, page 192-
Colm Toibin's novel The Blackwater Lightship was shortlisted for the Book Prize in 1999. Set on the coast in Ireland near Dublin, the novel centers around Declan, a young homosexual man dying of AIDS whose sister, mother and grandmother come together to care for him. Declan's sister Helen narrates this tale of heartache, loss, redemption and healing.
Toibin's simple, luminous prose captures the discomfort and estrangement between the family members. Helen's voice is at once sad, angry and contemplative as current events bring up memories she has worked hard to forget. After years of estrangement, her brother's impending death brings them back together and forces them to deal with the past.
She did not know how her grandmother would respond to their arrival. She realised that for the first time in years - ten years, maybe - she was back as a member of this family she had so determinedly tried to leave. For the first time in years they would all be under the same roof, as though nothing had happened. She realised, too, that the unspoken emotions between them in the car, and the sense that they were once more a unit, seemed utterly natural now that there was a crisis, a catalyst. She was back home, where she had hoped she would never be again, and she felt, despite herself, almost relieved. -From The Blackwater Lightship, page 106-
Toibin's slowly evolving novel looks at the fragility of family relationships and the desire to return "home" when we are most vulnerable. Lighthouses are commonly symbolic as beacons of safety or, in dreams, as beacons of truth - and so it is no surprise that The Blackwater Lightship is about both finding a safe haven and uncovering the truth.
This novel is melancholy and moody, but in the end I felt a sense of satisfaction and hope; the feeling that even in the face of death, healing and redemption are possible.
Recommended; rated 4/5.