Blackwater Lightship by Colm Toibin, 11 of 52

What a gorgeous, gentle exploration of families, friends, the unsaid, guilt and how our relationships are forever changing and evolving over our life course. I chose to read this story as my own family was facing the loss of a very much loved one. We have just been through 15 months of facing the challenges of that horrible disease cancer with my father-in-law. He passed away peacefully, in his own home, in the arms of my mother-in-law on their 47th wedding anniversay at the end of March. Our own family had to come to terms with what the dying experience would be like for all of us, much of the time singularly devoted to the needs of my parents in-law. We have been so blessed to have found a greater depth in those relationships than before and I was very curious to read a book about another families experience.

All families have things unsaid and misunderstood, that  is part of being human and emotionally complex. This story beautifully captures a family that has emotional wounds that have been left to fester and take on a lifeblood of their own. It is a family that did not survive intact after the early death of a father and how this death was dealt with determined the relationships of the future. I find it interesting that the ending shows how influenced we can be by other peoples own value systems and sometimes ignore our own inner voice that may suggest we take another path. In this story, the mother made a decision in a time of extreme stress based on others advice and in good faith.

The main character of this story is Helen, because she seems to have been so much more emotionally damaged from losing her father. The story centres around the family coming together when Helen’s younger brother Declan is suffering from advanced Aids. Each character in this story is beautifully written, I particularly enjoyed Declan’s friends who brought loyalty and caring where it was missing. The character of the mother however, really stands out for me. She is so conflicted and hurt by the passing of her husband that I dont think she had ever truly recovered. I find her the most human and poignant of all. She is the exposition of what is means to turn away from that which hurts and to fill the void with something new. The end of the story for me brought a real sense of resolution and hope for them, but sadness that it was so very late in coming.


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