New Ways to Kill Your Mother
Writers and Their Families
By Colm Toibin
Scribner Book Company, Hardcover, 9781451668551, 345pp.
Publication Date: June 12, 2012
List Price: $26.00*
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In a brilliant, nuanced and wholly original collection of essays, the novelist and critic Colm Tóibín explores the relationships of writers to their families and their work.
From Jane Austen’s aunts to Tennessee Williams’s mentally ill sister, the impact of intimate family dynamics can be seen in many of literature’s greatest works. Tóibín, celebrated both for his award-winning fiction and his provocative book reviews and essays, and currently the Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Columbia, traces and interprets those intriguing, eccentric, often twisted family ties in New Ways to Kill Your Mother. Through the relationship between W. B. Yeats and his father, Thomas Mann and his children, and J. M. Synge and his mother, Tóibín examines a world of relations, richly comic or savage in its implications. In Roddy Doyle’s writing on his parents, Tóibín perceives an Ireland reinvented. From the dreams and nightmares of John Cheever’s journals, Tóibín illuminates this darkly comic misanthrope and his relationship to his wife and his children. “Educating an intellectual woman,” Cheever remarked, “is like letting a rattlesnake into the house.” Acutely perceptive and imbued with rare tenderness and wit, New Ways to Kill Your Mother is a fascinating look at writers’ most influential bonds and a secret key to understanding and enjoying their work.
“A typical Tóibín essay describes the arc of a writer’s development and life, and uses the writer’s own words to draw graceful conclusions about his temperament and biography…Tóibín’s skill at glossing the lives of great writers is on display in his latest essay collection.”
“Tóibín finds an engaging multiplicity of detail. And his critical voice is as seductive as the widely varying voices in his novels.”
“Tóibín is a masterly novelist who is also a fine critic…powerful.”
“[Toibin possesses a] vast understanding of fiction and its uses, and a mind that processes novels and ideas like a rumbling supercomputer...Mr. Toibin is such an adept and morally serious close reader that his criticism becomes nearly as galvanizing as his fiction. There really aren’t, it turns out, any new ways to kill your mother, at least not artistically. But all the old ways, in Mr. Toibin’s telling, still work rather beautifully.”
“[A] lively exploration of writers and their families…Fascinating.”
“[Tóibín writes] shrewdly and passionately as both critic and novelist.”
“Like all fine critics, Tóibín inspires readers to go back to the work, and he brings a human aspect to the works of seemingly deracinated authors like Beckett and Jorge Luis Borges…It’s a pleasure to watch Tóibín rove through 19th and 20th-century literary history.”
“Tóibín excels when discussing craft…[New Ways to Kill Your Mother is] chock-full of biographic detail that will interest ardent readers.”