The Empty Family
Colm Toibin
“One Minus One”

“One Minus One” is from Colm Toibin’s collection The Empty Family (Scribner), shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor Prize. Toibin is the author of two story collections and six novels, including The South (shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel Award and winner of the Irish Times/ Aer Lingus First Fiction Award) and The Master (2004, the LA Times Novel of the Year; and shortlisted for the Booker Prize. His work has been translated into thirty languages.


There is plenty of melancholy in Toibin’s collection.  As Francine Prose said, writing in her review in the New York Times, Toibin “doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff: the deaths of parents, the end of love, the point in life at which a person begins to suspect that everything interesting and exciting has already happened. Retrospect is a major player in these dramas; regret makes its entrance onstage, and a character relives the sort of experience recalled for the obvious reason that it was so painful.”


Prose goes on to say: In “One Minus One,” a monologue addressed to a former lover, the narrator recalls a time when he was plucked from his promising new life in Manhattan to return to his old life in Ireland, where his mother was dying….For Toibin, memory seems not merely a function of the heart but proof that the heart exists.”

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