Mothers and Sons by Colm Toibin

(Book 136) Marcia was unable to host due to her recent move, so the girls met at my place. I sent out this email:

Dear Neighbors (Queridas vecinas,)

I am organizing a search party to look for the mother and son relationships in Colm Toibin’s short story collection Mothers and Sons.  We will meet in the small bar near the bus station on August 26 at 6:30. Please sign up here if you will be able to assist in the search.

Your friend and neighbor (Tu amiga y vecina)


The email was a reference to the last story in the collection, a novella really, A Long Winter, because this last story had informed the menu. My choices for book-themed food were limited: I could choose to remodel my kitchen as the mother remodeled her store into a fish and chips shop to make enough money to pay the bills in The Name of the Game, or I could serve the kind of food the family ate in a bar near the bus station in A Long Winter, the short story set in Northern Spain. I didn’t think I could handle the regular smell of fish and chips, so I made bocadillas, lots and lots of bocadillas, and served them with gazpacho, a bag of your choice of flavors Spanish chips and a glass of Cava Sangria. There were white and red wines on offer as well but the boozy fruit in the sangria was quite a hit. The girls had their choice of five kinds of bocadillas and most chose to do a half sandwich of two or more. As you can see in the picture of my menu board, my prices were quite reasonable.

As for finding evidence of mother/son relationships in the book, we found very little. Mostly we found evidence of a lack of any real relationship between mother and son. We found stories primarily about the mother and stories primarily about the son, but few with both. Many of us enjoyed The Use of Reason because both mother and son were such curious characters. I particularly enjoyed this spot of writing:

Between three and four in the morning on weekdays, nothing moved in those streets. It was as though the dead were sleeping. There was silence and you could do anything.

A Song and The Name of the Game were both stories that evidenced almost no relationship between mother and son; and the Famous Blue Raincoat was effectively a story about sisters. Most of us felt that A Long Winter should have been shorter, it went to great lengths to prove the second word of the title, and that was essentially the only complaint about the writing. We talked about some of his other work, some of us had seen the movie Brooklyn and I had only read the book.

For dessert we had the shortbread biscuits, that were not stolen from the store in The Name of the Game, used as the crust and the blackberries found growing wild in Three Friends in a delicious, if I do say so myself, blackberry cheesecake.

Next month’s discussion of My Sister, the Serial Killer will take place at Chris’ home on Wednesday, September 29.