BOOK REVIEW / A sentence beyond words: 'The Heather Blazing' - Colm Toibn: Picador, 14.99
Eamon Redmond is a judge, in charge of a landmark case in which he will decide that a pregnant girl who has had an abortion cannot return to her school. Behind the brutality of the decision is Redmond's own childhood, dominated by the loss of speech and the repression of feelings. The only child of a teacher with a barely spoken history of involvement in the events of 1916 and after, Redmond grows up motherless, absorbed in homework until his father has a stroke. The boy watches with shame and love his father's attempts to teach his classes, hardly intelligible at times as he struggles with his twisted tongue.
Grown-up, Eamon marries Carmen, a fellow activist in the Fianna Fail party, but he is past the capacity to express his feelings and his son and daughter grow up estranged. He approaches the case of the teenage girl with the dignity of logic, arriving at what he believes can be the only correct decision: the right of society is greater than that of the individual. Later Carmen herself has a stroke and eventually dies. The sea at their holiday home is eroding the land. Redmond is left with almost nothing except the possibility of a relationship with his young grandson and the memory of the fire of the past when the IRA set the heather alight.
Toibin's Catholic upbringing makes him concerned with what should be the only subject for any writer: revealed truth. His writing is pure and understated, with an almost complete absence of literary pretension - journalistic prose (and Toibn was once a reporter) which resonates with deeper meaning. The novel is narrated dispassionately and with deceptive simplicity, moving between the public figure of the judge in his study and the terrible deaths of childhood and after, the boy's growing sexual awareness, and hints of a kind of Irish history we know little of: it was Redmond's father's job, we discover, to travel up to Dublin to gain permission from headquarters for an IRA arson attack.
Toibn takes you into the heart of his characters' lives, describing the final sexual act of the ageing Redmond and Carmen before her muffled sounds express something worse than pleasure. It is impossible to read Toibn without being moved, touched and finally changed.
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
New era of cheap oil 'will destroy green revolution'
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Ukip founder Alan Sked and Nigel Farage 'begged Enoch Powell to stand as a candidate'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant