Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Heather Blazing

90. The Heather Blazing, by Colm Tóibín

In this quiet novel, Eamon Redmond, a High Court judge in Dublin, looks back, reflecting on his life. The troubled history of Ireland is there in his reminiscences and the turmoil of the modern world and a changing country is reflected in his own family.

The structure of the novel is deceptively simple. It is in three parts, each beginning as the law term ends, with a final case being heard or judgment being carefully crafted and delivered. Then Redmond leaves the courts to summer with his wife, Carmel, in Cush, County Wexford, the area where he grew up. I say "deceptively simple" because there is, in fact, a complex interconnection between the scenes in the law courts and the judge's summers, among the three years covered by these parts, and between the judge's present and his memories of the past.

The first and third parts begin with the same two sentences: Eamon Redmond stood at the window looking down at the river which was deep brown after days of rain. He watched the color, the mixture of mud and water, and the small currents and pockets of movement within the flow." That phrase, "small currents and pockets of movement within the flow", is a rather good description of this book, as Redmond recalls the "small currents and pockets of movement" within the flow that is his life.

I have seen Tóibín compared to Joyce, and it's not a bad comparison. His ability to show people's relationships and characters through the simple description of the mundane events of their daily lives, yet leading to a moment of realization, is very Joycean. His language is neither fancy nor stilted, but polished to a gem-like luster, each word perfectly chosen, and all strung together like a matched set of pearls.

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