Embracing his Argentinian side

Antonia Logue welcomes a narrative master

The Story of the Night by Colm Tibn, Picador, pounds 15.99

War, love and South America: the novel by Andrew Lloyd Webber? Well, not quite. As far from squeaky musicals as he is from Garcia Marquez's magic realism, Colm Toibin in his third novel moves beyond anything he has done before: the Irish high court judge in The Heather Blazing, the Irish woman gathering her life together in Fifties Spain in The South, his first novel.

In content, his new novel could scarcely be more different. In style, however, he remains exactly the same: terse and spare, whatever the odds.

The Story Of The Night is set in Argentina in the Eighties. The narrator, Richard Garay, lives with his ageing English mother, who in turn lives in a fictional British Empire, replete with all the coarse iconography and devotion to Thatcher that comes from dotty jingoism. Richard is gay and teaches English for a living, but his daily life contains little more than casual sex with strangers and a fruitless crush on one of his pupils.

Then his mother dies, and suddenly the Falklands War arrives and departs within a matter of pages. After the war, Richard becomes involved with an American espionage couple who introduce him to all sorts of US oil- investors with a very specific political agenda: the privatisation of Argentinian oil. Suddenly he's rich, wearing suits, and being seduced - the classic American Eighties yuppie in a country raped blindfold by political corruption and savagery.

At exactly the point he chooses to embrace his Argentinian paternity, Richard evolves into both its antithesis and personification - a fact which is brought clearly home to him at an elite party given by the Americans, when he discovers that a former classmate he thought had dropped out of college had in fact been dropped out of a plane, drugged, somewhere over the ocean, one of Argentina's Disappeared ones.

Richard is saved from the consequences of a lifetime's unhappy sexual ambivalence by Pablo, brother of the tauntingly heterosexual Jorge, the pupil on whom he had such a crush. By falling deeply in love he abandons the constraints of his life hitherto, and repatriates his identity, not through Argentina, but through his emotional fulfilment.

Toibin's most consummate skill as a writer has long been his gift for pacing a narrative. This is achieved through more than structural finesse - both tone and subtle details of character are used like fine wire to bind ideas together. Moments that teeter on the edge of triteness are saved by Toibin's use of language. What begins as a story of political, social, and emotional isolation becomes a narrative of inclusion: the story of a much wider society.

The novel is filled with explicit sexual encounters, but the detached, precise narration never wavers, even when describing a grapple in a sauna. It's a style which initially affords the reader little chance of warming to the central character; but through this arm's-length approach Toibin manipulates and confounds the reader's judgement.

The intellect which has so conspicuously powered Toibin's writing career is fired here with a new ambition and purpose. Few doubted that Toibin had a great novel in him; the surprise is that it has come so soon.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

    Orthorexia nervosa

    How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
    Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover

    Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

    Set a pest to catch a pest

    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
    Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

    The dark side of Mexico

    A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

    Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border