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Politics of the Personal in the Fiction of Colm Tóibín


Kathleen Costello-Sullivan

This original and engaging study explores the way in which Colm Tóibín repeatedly identifies and disrupts the boundaries between personal and political or social histories in his fiction. Through this collapsing of boundaries, he examines the cost of broader political exclusions and considers how personal and political narratives shape individual subjects.
Each of Tóibín’s novels is comprehensively addressed here, as are his non-fiction works, reviews, plays, short stories, and some as-yet-unpublished work. The book situates Tóibín not only within his contemporary literary milieu, but also within the contexts of the Irish literary tradition, contemporary Irish politics, Irish nationalism, and theories of psychology, gender, nationalism, and postcolonialism.


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Chapter 3 ‘Hiding from the Other Side’: Politics and Sexuality in The Story of the Night 97


Chapter 3 ‘Hiding from the Other Side’: Politics and Sexuality in The Story of the Night Colm Tóibín’s third novel, The Story of the Night (1996), marks the novel- ist’s first complete literary move out of Ireland. It juxtaposes Argentinean politics in the troubled 1980s with a lonely closeted man’s attempt to come to terms with both his sexuality and his familial inheritance. By situating the death of the main character’s exiled British mother and his struggles with sexual identity in the midst of Argentina’s fractious political climate of los desaparecidos and the Falklands War, the novel examines the simultaneous impact of familial and political histories on personal determination and sexual politics. This paralleling also links personal and political silences as destructive to both subject and citizen, the body and body politic. This novel has been read as a personal and a political Bildungs roman, although the allegorical relationship to Ireland is, I would argue, less straightforward than in The Heather Blazing.1 Tóibín’s setting of the novel prior to Ireland’s decriminalization of homosexuality in 1993 presents a displaced critique, paralleling two political oppressions, Argentinean and Irish, in the alienated figure of Richard Garay.2 Tóibín has acknowledged that he began the text in 1993 in response to pressure to engage the issue of homosexuality, and one critic aptly calls The Story of the Night and The Blackwater Lightship ‘almost… companion pieces.’3 Just as Spain does not substitute directly and allegorically for Ireland in The South,...

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