The South

The South

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In 1950, Katherine Proctor leaves Ireland and her family for Barcelona, determined to become a painter. There she meets Miguel, an anarchist veteran of the Spanish Civil War, and proceeds to build a life with him. But Katherine cannot escape her past, as Michael Graves, a fellow Irish emigre to Spain, forces her to re-examine all her relationships: to her lover, her art and the homeland she only thought she knew. This is a strong and moving work of fiction about the hard truths of changing one's life. Colm Toibin, like his characters, never says too much and never lets us grow too comfortable. A grand achievement' Don DeLillo A broad and beautifully worked canvas ...An imaginative, deeply felt and evocative tale' Sunday Times

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Product details

  • Paperback | 240 pages
  • 130 x 192 x 18mm | 140.62g
  • Pan MacMillan
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English, Spanish
  • 0330323334
  • 9780330323338
  • 111,629

Review Text

A married Irishwoman leaves her family and finds fulfillment with a painter in Spain: no fireworks in this muted first novel from Irish journalist Toibin, though he does avoid rebirth-in-the-sun cliches. The year is 1950. What causes 32-year-old Katherine Proctor to bolt from husband Tom, son Richard, and their southern Irish farm is Tom's dragging their poor neighbors into court when they infringe on his land; it's her land too, and Tom's arrogance gives the deathblow to a loveless marriage. In London, Katherine gets encouragement from her mother (who had left her husband during the Troubles of 1920) and moves on to Barcelona (where her mother's checks will sustain her). Through the common interest of painting, she soon meets Michael Graves, a working-class man from her hometown who will become a supportive friend, and Miguel, who will become her lover. Miguel sells enough paintings for the two to move to the Pyrenees, to a village that feels like "the quiet top of the world." An anarchist fighter against Franco, Miguel had retreated here during the Civil War; slowly Katherine realizes that neither their "ravenous" love nor the birth of a daughter, Isona, will heal the wounds of a war that for Miguel still continues. Ominously, he starts to see Katherine as the class enemy; after police harassment and the death of his "leader," Carlos Puig, he goes to pieces, killing Isona and himself. The book's final third skims the years rapidly, as Katherine returns to Ireland, makes peace with her grown son Richard and his wife (Tom has died), and devotes herself to her painting. Toibin's spare prose (not mannered or fake Hemingway) and partial glimpses into Katherine's consciousness and background (Protestant gentry) work well enough at first, but as the years pile up, so do the questions; eventually, Toibin's withholding technique looks like a simple inability to deliver. Still, a promising debut. (Kirkus Reviews)

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About Colm Toibin

Colm Toibin was born in Ireland in 1955. He is the author of The South, The Heather Blazing, The Story of the Night, The Blackwater Lightship and most recently The Master, which was shortlisted for the 2004 Man Booker Prize. His non-fiction includes Bad Blood, Homage to Barcelona and The Sign of the Cross. His work has been translated into seventeen languages. He lives in Dublin.

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