New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers and their Families

Colm Tóibín

New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers and their Families

In his essay on the Notebooks of Tennessee Williams, Colm Tóibín reveals an artist 'alone and deeply fearful and unusually selfish' and one profoundly tormented by his sister's mental illness. Through the relationship between W.B. Yeats and his father or Thomas Mann and his children or J.M. Synge and his mother, Toibin examines a world of family relations, richly comic or savage in its implications. In Roddy Doyle's writing on his parents we see an Ireland reinvented. From the dreams and nightmares of John Cheever's journals Tóibín makes flesh this darkly comic misanthrope and his relationship to his wife and his children. 'Educating an intellectual woman,' Cheever remarked, 'is like letting a rattlesnake into the house.' In pieces that range from the importance of aunts (and the death of parents) in the English nineteenth-century novel to the relationship between fathers and sons in the writing of James Baldwin and Barack Obama, Colm Tóibín illuminates not only the intimate connections between writers and their families but also articulates the great joy of reading their work. 4.0 out of 5 based on 10 reviews
New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers and their Families

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre Literary Studies & Criticism, Essays, Journals & Letters
Format Hardback
Pages 352
RRP £20.00
Date of Publication February 2012
ISBN 978-0670918164
Publisher Viking
 

In his essay on the Notebooks of Tennessee Williams, Colm Tóibín reveals an artist 'alone and deeply fearful and unusually selfish' and one profoundly tormented by his sister's mental illness. Through the relationship between W.B. Yeats and his father or Thomas Mann and his children or J.M. Synge and his mother, Toibin examines a world of family relations, richly comic or savage in its implications. In Roddy Doyle's writing on his parents we see an Ireland reinvented. From the dreams and nightmares of John Cheever's journals Tóibín makes flesh this darkly comic misanthrope and his relationship to his wife and his children. 'Educating an intellectual woman,' Cheever remarked, 'is like letting a rattlesnake into the house.' In pieces that range from the importance of aunts (and the death of parents) in the English nineteenth-century novel to the relationship between fathers and sons in the writing of James Baldwin and Barack Obama, Colm Tóibín illuminates not only the intimate connections between writers and their families but also articulates the great joy of reading their work.

The Empty Family by Colm Tóibín

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

Reviews

The Sunday Telegraph

Jane Shilling

[An] engrossing collection of essays … Together, they form a penetrating and often very funny inquiry into the fraught complicity between parent and child, brother and sister — not forgetting the crucial role of the aunt in fiction. (It is odd, incidentally, that the significance of uncles in literature should be almost negligible by comparison; but that is an essay still to be written.)

20/02/2012

Read Full Review


The Guardian

Tessa Hadley

Because these essays are so enjoyably readable, it would be easy to miss what's innovative and liberating in Tóibín's accounts, throughout the collection, of novel and short story form. "The novel is not a moral fable," he writes about Mansfield Park, "… or an exploration of the individual's role in society; it is not our job to like or dislike characters in fiction, or learn from them how to live … A novel is a pattern and it is our job to relish and see clearly its textures and its tones, to note how the textures were woven and its tones put in place …" His accounts of fiction's "powerfully protean dynamic" use a language usually reserved for the visual arts or music; meaning is made in terms of form and feel and tonal development, not surface argument. He should know. A masterly writer, working at the full stretch of his powers, sends back reports from where he's engaged at white heat, writing and reading.

25/02/2012

Read Full Review


The Evening Standard

Hermione Eyre

This is not for readers who are Jung and easily Freudened. However, Tóibín is an excellent guide through the dark terrain of unconscious desires: he is never glib, and wisely leaves plenty of mysteries hanging. He notices a lot and theorises a little. He allows himself to be surprised.

16/02/2012

Read Full Review


The Independent on Sunday

Doug Johnstone

Insightful and compassionate … Tóibín is obviously most at home with Irish authors, writing with conviction and clarity about W B Yeats, J M Synge and Samuel Beckett, among others, but he is an assured and knowledgeable guide throughout this collection — without stooping to condescension as other expert literary critics might.

19/02/2012

Read Full Review


The Daily Telegraph

John Preston

… a consistently revealing look at how writers’ relationships with their families have influenced their work. It also sheds some fascinating light on Tóibín himself. As anybody familiar with his novels will know, he’s got plenty of mother issues of his own. Like his hero Henry James — whose fictional mothers also tend to be dead or conveniently offstage — you can sense him enacting his own drama of separation and self-invention.

20/02/2012

Read Full Review


The Spectator

Sam Leith

These are foxy essays. Tóibín knows lots of things, and his characteristic approach is to sneak up on things steadily: with the patient and downbeat recounting of detail, then a sudden gust of amusement or surprise, a sweeping statement, as in the following (‘Like most young men of his age [Hart Crane] wanted love from his mother and money from his father’), or an endearingly silly gag (‘Since there is nothing much to do in [Buenos Aires], other than bang saucepans together as a protest against government policy, discussing Borges’s love life has become as popular as polo’). He’s also austere in his judgments — Brian Moore’s lesser work gets what I think you could call ‘bitch-slapped’ in an offhand way — and acute in his occasional close readings.

25/02/2012

Read Full Review


The Sunday Times

Nick Rennison

The essays are not only about Irish writers. Two of the best pieces here analyse the tangled relationships in Thomas Mann’s family, and the mutual interdependence of Jorge Luis Borges and his elderly mother who, as a nonagenarian, was still busy organising her seventysomething son’s life. Toibin is also a stimulating interpreter of American writers such as John Cheever, Hart Crane and, in particular, James Baldwin. The book ends with a piece that perceptively highlights parallel ideas about escaping a father’s shadow in autobiographical works by both Baldwin and (unexpectedly) Barack Obama. This book adds up to a wide-ranging and enlightening study of the close interaction between the potentially stifling family and the individual spirit of the writer.

26/02/2012

Read Full Review


The Independent

Patricia Craig

These are engaging and illuminating essays, for the most part, but occasionally an overabundance of detail concerning sexual proclivities has a slightly dispiriting effect ... Colm Tóibín is, as ever, an astute and entertaining commentator, and an expert guide.

24/02/2012

Read Full Review


The Observer

Adam Mars-Jones

These are mainly substantial pieces, and they need to be, to examine knotty relationships in the necessary detail, to mount satisfying arguments. Many were first published in periodicals with "Review" in the title, whether in the UK or in America, and most started with the assignment of a book, or (in the language of the trade) a "peg" for a critical article ... Biographical information is used as if it were common property, though at least in the original periodical the book being reviewed was credited at the head of the article.

26/02/2012

Read Full Review


The Financial Times

Jason Cowley

... gathering together a series of occasional pieces, written over many years, into a book and then attempting to impose a retrospective coherence on it. An introduction would have helped to contextualise and would have eased the reader’s way. As it is, these review-essays share a family resemblance as themes overlap and interconnect, but the whole turns out to be rather less than the sum of its parts.

17/02/2012

Read Full Review


©2013 The Omnivore