The unnamed narrator of Barcelona, 1975, the penultimate item in The Empty Family, Colm Tóibín's latest collection of short stories, signs off an extremely graphic tale of sexual awakening and adventure by saying: "I was ready, once more, for anything." The reader of The Empty Family should be similarly prepared, as the author zig zags between Spain in the time of Franco and contemporary Ireland in these nine stories, Tóibín's first published work since the acclaimed and successful 2009 novel Brooklyn.
Tóibín also pauses once more in the world of Henry James, the illustrious American author who was the subject of his 2004 novel The Master. James appears here as the foil to a titled lady seeking to unburden herself of the details of a long-finished affair. It is a delicious reveal.
If the collection seems all over the map, these works are bound together by a sense of loss, dislocation and emptiness. While Tóibín's characters instinctively know they can never go back, they are all drawn to the past, to the moment when their lives were filled with promise rather than pain.
The Empty Family
Penguin / Viking