LOVE IN A DARK TIME by Colm Tóibín


and Other Explorations of Gay Lives and Literature
Email this review


An exploration of gay sensibility in literature, read artfully between the lines and mapping emotional attachments.

Discerning the gay influence in literature where it is veiled in subtexts—“a hidden world of signs and moments, fears and prejudices”—is of critical importance as gay history becomes a vital element in gay identity, writes Toibín. Gays all too often “grow up alone; there is no history.” So it is hardly surprising that Tóibín, a gay man and celebrated novelist (The Blackwater Nightship, 2000, etc.), would find in literature an elemental aspect of that history and a way for him to reflect on his own preoccupations with secret erotic energy, sadness, tragedy, and with living fearlessly in a dark time. He has one eye trained at the edge of things, the other on the domestic conflation of worlds: Wilde’s family, he tells us, were Irish Protestants supporting the cause of Irish freedom, which “lifted them out of their circumstances and gave them astonishing individuality and independence”; Elizabeth Bishop was “a northern woman in the south”; Thomas Mann “combined the Brazilian roots of his mother and his father’s Hanseatic heritage”—sharp, flighty, steely, ethereal, distant, romantic. Themes recur and can be seen, for example, in the work of filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, who “plays with opposites and doubles and secret identities,” or in James Baldwin, whose writing “is bathed in the sadness which resulted” from an intelligence, wit, and longing that were battered by Baldwin’s being a black, gay man. Understanding such presences allows us, suggests Toibín, to understand the intensity of our response to an artwork by Francis Bacon, or to Mark Doty’s poems when news of being HIV-positive hits his lover.

Toibín expresses a companionable solace here, but at what a price. These artists create in him “an urge to have gay lives represented as tragic, an urge I know I should repress.”

Pub Date: Oct. 29th, 2002
ISBN: 0-7432-2944-4
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2002


NonfictionON ELIZABETH BISHOP by Colm Tóibín
by Colm Tóibín
FictionNORA WEBSTER by Colm Tóibín
by Colm Tóibín
FictionTHE TESTAMENT OF MARY by Colm Tóibín
by Colm Tóibín
FictionBROOKLYN by Colm Tóibín
by Colm Tóibín


FictionBROOKLYN by Colm Tóibín
by Colm Tóibín
FictionMOTHERS AND SONS by Colm Tóibín
by Colm Tóibín
FictionTHE MASTER by Colm Tóibín
by Colm Tóibín


NonfictionEMINENT OUTLAWS by Christopher Bram
by Christopher Bram