Reading Colm Tóibín’s collection of short stories “The Empty Family”, I was reminded of Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk’s poignant evocation of his hometown in his part-history part-memoir entitled “Istanbul – Memories and the City.” The pervasive ethos throughout “Istanbul” is melancholy—for a lost childhood innocence, for a family diminished in its once prominent social standing, and for a city whose culture is but a shadow of its former grandeur.
There are certainly contrasts between the two books. Pamuk maintains a consistency of despairing tone from the first to last pages of “Istanbul” that is relentless. Tóibín’s “The Empty Family” on the other hand has a wide variety of characters, settings, and tonal fluctuations. But they are just that, fluctuations, around that similar emotional state of melancholy.
“The Empty Family”, as the title suggests, is more micro-focused than “Istanbul.” Each of Tóibín’s exquisitely crafted short stories focuses around some dynamic of family. There is regret about the loss of a loved one, guilt about one’s self-imposed inaccessibility as a parent is dying, anxious hope for a relationship or at least companionship or at a minimum sex in a context of social and cultural repression.
Tóibín is not writing stories with happy endings, for the most part, in “The Empty Family.” On occasion, a story will conclude with some hope. But the predominating tenor in all of them is one of sadness, regret, frustration, and guilt.
I resonate with the melancholy in “The Empty Family” and “Istanbul”. I should say that I resonate it with it now. Over the past three years while I was writing my memoir “August Farewell” and my novel “Searching for Gilead”, I was in a far different universe than that of melancholia. While working on the memoir and novel I was raging, frothing at the mouth, tearing into my memory stocks and mining my artistic imagination to try and make sense of the tragedies and multiple griefs that threatened to overwhelm me.
Melancholy suggests to me a certain despairing resignation to the vicissitudes of life. I read that in “The Empty Family”, in “Istanbul”, and in my own life at this point.
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Information on my memoir “August Farewell” and my novel “Searching for Gilead”, including short YouTube video book trailers, is available on my website at http://DavidGHallman.com
For information on Colm Tóibín’s “The Empty Family”, see: http://amzn.to/PdK1Y5
For information on Orhan Pamuk’s “Istanbul – Memories and the City”, see: http://amzn.to/MPuh1m