Instead of a typical review I respond to the blurbs on the back cover:

“A fine novel, remarkable for the purity of its ambitions.”—The Washington Post Book World.

The Story of the Night is a fine novel.  Very well written, reading it feels like spending a long weekend hearing all the details about a new acquaintance’s history.  The more I read it, the more I enjoyed it.  But I have no idea what “the purity of its ambitions” even means so I can’t say how remarkable they are.  I don’t think there’s very much that is remarkable about The Story of the Night.  The narrator, Richard, goes from rags to riches, from loveless to loved, only to face losing it all.  There’s not much remarkable in that story.

“This is one of the most absorbing new novels I’ve read in quite some time.”—The Irish Times.

I agree.  The narrator, Richard, is an Argentinian of English descent.  When the novel opens he is still living in his mother’s apartment.  She is disappointed with how her life has turned out, having left England to marry an Argentinian who died leaving her to raise a son in a strange land.  This gives Richard an odd outsider status in his homeland which he never really overcomes.  But he is able to use that to his advantage after meeting an American couple who take a liking to him and set him up as a public relations/escort person for wealthy oil industry executives keen on buying up Argentina’s newly privatized oil industry.  The business and the politics of the novel are soon subsumed by the romance Richard begins with Pablo, the son of a former political boss now trying to get himself democratically elected to office in Argentina’s first elections after the Falkland’s war.  The Story of the Night becomes almost an escapist read with so many wealthy people living the high life in Buenos Aires.

A smart literary novel that is also a satisfying page-turner.”  —Out.

Smart and literary yes.  The Story of the Night precedes Mr. Toibin’s Booker nominated The Master by almost ten years, but even in this early work it’s clear that he was an author worth watching.  But page-turner no.  I’ve read many a page-turner and The Story of the Night is not one of them.  Reading it one might become so absorbed that time flies by a bit, but it’s not a book you’ll stay up late reading on a school night if there’s a big test the next day.

“Toibin’s simple but eloquent telling of this personal story is sometimes explicit, often moving, and always vivid in its portrayal of Argentina and its people.” —Library Journal (starred review).

True.

“Beginning the book is like sneaking into a diary; ending it is like losing a fascinating friend.” —Harper’s Bazaar.

Again true.  This is an excellent way to describe some of my favorite books.  I love books that read like a person’s life, that don’t focus so much on plot, but allow the reader to spend time with a character or set of characters getting to know all about them.  Reading The Story of the Night has the added bonus of getting to know Argentina.

Front cover blurb: “An impressive, beautifully modulated, unexpectedly affecting book.” —Jeffrey Eugeides, author of The Virgin Suicides.

“Impressive” and “unexpectedly affecting” yes.  But watch those adverbs!  Just as with his later book The Master, I found myself much more moved by the story than I expected to be.  Colm Toibin has this way of sneaking up on the reader emotionally.  He never even taps the reader on the shoulder, it’s not that dramatic, but by the end I feel that someone has been standing behind me all along.  But “beautifully modulated” what does that mean?  Maybe Mr. Eugeides was playing Apples to Apples with his children while he was writing his review.  It sounds very good, “beautifully modulated” but surely it’s a phrase best used to describe a piece of music or the segmentation of an attractive invertebrate.

In the end, I have to go with Harper’s Bazarre’s blurb.  I think it’s the best description of my own reaction to the book, and the best of the blurbs quoted on the book’s cover.

 

I first ran this review on my old blog, Ready When You Are, C.B. back in 2010.  Colm Toibin was the guest on the Books and Author’s podcast from BBC 4 last week, so I thought I’d repost my review of his work today.  He’s a very enjoyable interview, and was a contender for the Booker prize again this year.  Listening to him during my morning commute yesterday I learned two things: one, his first name is not at all hard to pronounce.  For years I’ve been trying to pronounce it using only the letters c-o-l-m which is difficult for me to say the least, but it’s really just Collum which is a cinch.  The second thing is that he wrote lots of books, many more than I previously knew of.  I think it would be fun to read them all, too.  Maybe a personal reading challenge in 2015….

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4 Comments

  1. bellarah says:

    The Blackwater Lightship was a great book, I haven’t read this one yet though. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Toibin’s writing style, as I was studying the book for university (we all know that rarely ends well!) It probably helped that I was reading it repeatedly while travelling through the UK and Ireland.
    Since you have a good review for this, I’ll be getting myself some more of Colm’s work! It’s such a cool idea to review the blurbs!

    1. He’s someone whose style I admire and whose books i enjoy, but not someone I’m in the habit of running out and buying whenever something new comes out. But I do plan on changing that habit.

  2. This is a great idea for a review format, James! I love Toibin’s writing and have added this title to my wish list…I can read it while waiting to get to the top of the library hold list for Nora Webster.

    1. It was fun writing my review this way. It’s not something I’d make a habit of doing, but everyone once in a while…..

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