Tóibín's debut (The South, 1991) followed its heroine, a married Irishwoman on the lam, through a cycle of gain and loss; his downbeat second novel, the portrait of a Dublin judge, is all loss, no gain. An only child, Eamon Redmond lost his mother in infancy (she died in 1934). Raised by his undomesticated schoolteacher father in a small Irish town, he learned early on to be self-sufficient. His grandfather had been imprisoned by the British; his father had also participated in the struggle for independence. Eamon joins their party, Fianna Fail, and establishes his legal career through political contacts. While Eamon's still a teenager, his father has a stroke, driving the schoolboy deeper into solitude. His future wife Carmel (they meet during a campaign) finds his reserve charming, at first, but she will never break it down, and years later (after she herself has had a stroke) she cries out, "You don't love me...you don't love any of us." (That "us" refers to their grown children, son Donal and daughter Niamh, estranged from their father since adolescence.) Eamon, then, is the coldest of cold fish; even at the end, after Carmel's death, he stirs little sympathy. Meanwhile, Tóibín gives us present and past in alternate chapters; Eamon as a senior High Court judge, sharp-tongued on the bench but placidly uncommunicative with Carmel while summering at the shore, is contrasted with Eamon as a child. The technique hurts the story, and Tóibín's undernourished prose lowers the temperature even further. At one point, pondering his most important judgment, Eamon realizes "he was not equipped to be a moral arbiter." Could this be a career crisis? But, no, the moment passes--another in a series of missed opportunities that doom the novel.