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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Colm Tóibín, May His Tribe Increase!
Once captured by the liquid, informed prose of Colm Tóibín it is difficult to ignore anything this brilliant writer has written. Still under the spell of 'The Master' and having just sadly finished 'The Story of the Night' (that novel could have been extended another 300 pages!), it seemed only appropriate to read an investigative work, just to see how this...
Published on June 21, 2005 by Grady Harp

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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Promise Not Fulfilled
Unless you read the word "lives" in the subtitle as "biographies" (as few will do) this book is not what it promises to be. What you get instead of biographical essays is mostly a collection of reviews of biographies of famous homosexual people of the late 19th and the 20th century, originally published in the "London Review of Books". There are three exceptions to this...
Published on June 30, 2011 by Ford Ka


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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Colm Tóibín, May His Tribe Increase!, June 21, 2005
By 
Once captured by the liquid, informed prose of Colm Tóibín it is difficult to ignore anything this brilliant writer has written. Still under the spell of 'The Master' and having just sadly finished 'The Story of the Night' (that novel could have been extended another 300 pages!), it seemed only appropriate to read an investigative work, just to see how this man's mind absorbs and dissects the world of reality instead the one of fiction.

Happily LOVE IN A DARK TIME is as fascinating a read as his novels. Tóibín searches the lives of many writers and artists asking how did/does their sexuality inform what they create. After a few historic references regarding the gay aspects of Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Melville, Joyce, Lorca, Yeats, Kafka, Proust, Gide et at, he analyses biographies (example: Lionel Trilling's bio of EM Forster) that appear unaware of the subject's sexual proclivities! That thrusts us into the exploration of history before the term 'homosexual' was created, regards the aspects of 'the gay being', and proceeds to introduce postulates as to how the works created by nine particular people were deeply influenced by their sexuality, occult or accepted.

What then follows is a richly detailed and elegant series of essays on Henry James, Oscar Wilde, Roger Casement (of The Black Diaries), Thomas Mann, Francis Bacon (the painter), Elizabeth Bishop, James Baldwin, Thom Gunn, Pedro Almodovar, and Mark Doty. In each essay Tóibín takes a new stance of investigation, finding incidents or traits in the lives of those discussed that allow 'stories' to develop naturally.

For those who have read 'The Master' (Tóibín's own "biography" of Henry James) this series of highly researched essays will come as no surprise. Tóibín's mind is rich with a plethora of books read and a penetrating mind that examines art from a vantage peculiar to a man that has arrived at the top of the heap in the field of literature. For enjoyable and informative reading, LOVE IN DARK TIME is a pearl. And reading Tóibín's older works only serves to whet the appetite for his next opus. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, June 05
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I'm Left Somewhat in the Dark, November 13, 2002
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This is my first nonfiction read by Toibin. I've read three of his novels and think he gets better with each one. THE BLACKWATER LIGHTSHIP was an altogether fine book and deserved the Booker Prize I think. So I couldn't wait to start this one. I confess that I'm not sure what is going on here. In the introduction Mr. Toibin presents some of his favorite artists. He says that he writes about "gay figures for whom, in the main, being gay seemed to come second in their public lives" writers who write in code, whose works are not published during their lifetime, who use vague pronouns in their poetry. (Certainly I wouldn't have wanted to miss a novel like "DEATH IN VENICE," for instance.) Toibin goes on further to say that writing this book helped him come to terms with his "own interest in secret, erotic energy," his interest in both Catholicism and Irish Protestants, his admiration for "figures who lived in a dark time and were not afraid," and his fascination with sadness and tragedy. Herein lives Mr. Toibin's problem. He takes on too much in too little space. Additionally his treatment of these artists he admires is wildly uneven, both in depth and space. For example, the chapter on Oscar Wilde covers almost 50 pages; the chapter on Mark Doty-- one of my favorite writers-- covers only 7. And for the life of me I'm not sure what Mr. Toibin is trying to say in the concluding chapter entitled "Good-bye to Catholic Ireland," a chapter I read twice. Like many Catholics who attempt to say what is wrong with their church, Mr. Toibin is too "tentative," a word he uses elsewhere in this book, in his taking on the church. Certainly he is not alone in his dilemma, however. It's easy for me to make that criticism, never having walked in a Catholic altar boy's shoes either. In Toibin's chapter on Elizabeth Bishop, we are told that "like all orphans, Bishop was clever at making friends and inventing a family for herself." I suspect that that statement is true for many people but for "all orphans"? I'm not sure that that is a true statement.
There is a lot to like about this book, however. Mr. Toibin is never dull and is best when doing a narrative, something we would expect from a fine novelist. For example, when he describes a party that both he and Almodovar attended in Madrid, I wanted to be there. When I finished this book, I wanted to reread James Baldwin and read for the first time both Elizabeth Bishop and Thom Gunn. Toibin is also good at giving us delicious trivia about people. For example, we learn that Francis Bacon slept with a dog the night before being examined for military service in order to exacerbate his asthma and flunk his physical.
I'm certainly glad I read this book and would read anything by this writer. I just don't think this book is as good as Mr. Toibin's fiction.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Recalling Favorite Authors of His Youth!, April 20, 2003
This retrospective from this award-winning Irish gay novelist is a very informative, enlightening, and opinionated reading for anyone, but especially gay readers, interested in gay literature. The author's aim was to write a book about a group of authors and their books that he read in his youth, that deeply influenced him, and that he discovered only years later were by gay authors. These authors became companions that had the same interests as he did. Toibin examines the lives of such authors as; Thomas Mann, James Baldwin, Roger Casement, and poets Mark Doty, and Thom Gunn. These authors are some of the most influential gay writers of our time, but some had to keep their sexuality hidden by choice or necessity. I enjoyed all of Toibin's examinations of these fine authors but after reading Toibin's chapter about Roger Casement's "Black Diaries", which were supposedly vivid records of his sexual partners, I'm still left wondering whether or not they really existed.

This book shows how deeply serious this author is about his love of books. You will walk away with an entirely new view of the life and work of these authors who have clearly influenced Toibin's life. It is a book that makes you think of your own favorite authors and how they have affected your life. This is a wonderful book, like no other I have read. Highly Recommended!
Joe Hanssen
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars LOVE THAT ILLUMINATES, December 17, 2004
By 
Colm Toibin's "Love in a Dark Time" is a superior group of essays by one gay writer about other gay writers. What distinguishes this 2001 collection is how effectively Toibin sells the work of each figure essayed. I was never interested in James Baldwin before, but after reading Toibin's take, I ran out and enjoyed two Baldwin books. In the piece on Thomas Mann, we see how many of his male infatuations Mann turned into art--which infatuations into which stories--a subject being studied in detail only now by his biographers. And in the profile of Pedro Almodovar, we meet the Spanish torch singer Chavela Vargas, whom Almodovar rescued from obscurity because her confessional art mirrored so closely the values of his own cinema of women. A wonderful collection of essays that illuminate, indeed sell, each subject.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Promise Not Fulfilled, June 30, 2011
By 
Ford Ka (Edinburgh, Scotland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Love in a Dark Time: And Other Explorations of Gay Lives and Literature (Paperback)
Unless you read the word "lives" in the subtitle as "biographies" (as few will do) this book is not what it promises to be. What you get instead of biographical essays is mostly a collection of reviews of biographies of famous homosexual people of the late 19th and the 20th century, originally published in the "London Review of Books". There are three exceptions to this rule but only as much as in two essays the books reviewed were not biographies and one is a recollection of a meeting with Almodovar. As a result there is little of what I might call "a story line" here, apart of chronology, and the selection emerges as quite random. Toibin makes it all quite clear in his Introduction so it is not a spoiler in any way - still you will not find this information on the cover or in the Amazon product description.
The selection of artists is quite interesting and moderately international yet the value of specific reviews is greatly varied. I would say that on the one hand it depends on the quality of the reviewed biographies (quite comprehensibly, it is rather difficult to approach a dull subject with much enthusiasm, although none of the reviews made me reach for the book under review...) while on the other on Toibin's personal attitudes to their subjects and here the Irish apparently win hands down.
Some of the essays justly deserve attention - I would single out Wilde and Gunn - some seem wasted effort and the essay on Elisabeth Bishop sadly stands out among them. Some of them have an agenda (e.g. essay on Casement concentrates on the issue of his infamous, and quite probably forged, "Black Diary", offering very little of Casement's life), some only seem to ramble (e.g. Mann and Baldwin). Probably the most interesting is the final essay which is purportedly a review of two books on the demise of the power of the Roman Catholic Church in modern Ireland but, actually, offers a lot of Toibin's personal recollections of the process.
I am not trying to suggest that you should not buy this book (especially if you are a Toibin's fan!) but if you choose to do so buy for it for what it actually is and not for what the publisher attempts to sell. Otherwise you may be just as disappointed as I was.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brief lives, June 19, 2012
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This review is from: Love in a Dark Time: And Other Explorations of Gay Lives and Literature (Paperback)
Colm Toibín was approached by a London literary journal; with the prospective of producing brief lives of gay cultural figures in the twentieth century; though he was initially hesitant, they kept sending along to him books to review and he found himself writing the pieces anyway. We should be grateful he did so: he collected them in this anthology, and they're absolutely terrific. Toibin discovered from this he had a real flair for life writing (which he demonstrated later in his brief biography LADY GREGORY'S TOOTHBRUSH and his novel of Henry James's later ears, THE MASTER), and his writingh has just the right approach: he's amusing but never heavy-handed, and he is extraordinary at finding just the right anecdote to illuminate an entire life. The pieces on James Baldwin and Francis Bacon are the best on the book (and sent me out to read more on them), but all of the pieces are terrific... with the exception of a silly piece on Pedro Alomodovar he wrote for VANITY FAIR that just doesn't fit in with the rest of the anthology. (It's written in that contemptible and self-congratulatory VANITY FAIR profile style, and tells us little about Almodovar's actual life.)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars artists born of oppression, July 15, 2013
This review is from: Love in a Dark Time: And Other Explorations of Gay Lives and Literature (Paperback)
Our group likes this author very much. Here, he looks at various authors and the various influences on their lives.

For Jorge Luis Borges being homosexual is like being Jewish. Those who came out of liberated concentration camps still wearing a pink triangle were rearrested and reincarcerated. Jews and Northern Irish Catholics have had a chance to work out the implications of their oppression but gays have no history. `Pathological and homosexual' are almost synonyms. Kafka, a Jew in Prague, exhibited and hid.

Oscar Wilde was alone in prison 24 hours a day, not allowed to speak during exercise, had no writing paper, had problems with his ears and eyes. His plank bed induced insomnia and he could hardly escape becoming insane.

Roget Casement had read Heart of Darkness and wanted Conrad's support. His diary mentioned the beauty of boys and he moved from pervert to invert, from using boys to getting them to use him. Conrad thought this was not in keeping with the aims of empire. After reading the Imitation of Christ he became a Roman Catholic and received his first communion on the day of his execution. It has been suggested that his enemies forged his diary to blacken his character.

Thomas Mann's Felix Krull was homoerotic. Homosexuality was part of his German heritage and his sons were more secure in their homosexuality than he was.

Bacon made no attempt to hide so people wrote about his unsatisfactory relationships (`The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon'), his unhappy childhood, his low-life friends, his masochism, how he was jealous of his nanny's soldier boyfriend, that he was locked in cupboard and did not ask the mirror why he wasn't normal.

Elizabeth Bishop thought she had to write `precious' poetry, that it was risky to use a word like `heavens' and that `Oxford graduates smell'

James Baldwin's work is about more important things than age or race or sexuality. His style is a mixture of the King James Version of the Bible and African-American. His father died when he was 19, after chilling in the pulpit, being cruel at home. He threw jug of water at a waitress who wouldn't serve him because of his race. He believed that only mass conversion can change things, that it is too subtle merely to be an angry black man, merely a black writer. He castigated the dishonesty of Greenwich Village and Paris. His was dangerously explicit writing for 1951, where a black man hanged from tree and his genitals cut off. He was not at home in the Civil Rights movement as it was hostile to homosexuals.

Pedro Almodovar is covered though I was disappointed that his films are not mentioned. Born in 1951, he enjoyed reading lives of saints and Gregorian chants but he disliked the priests' Religious Education. In 1960s, people behaved as if Franco was already dead yet the film school was shut down, Military service was a nightmare and he spoke to nobody for 12 months. His long hair was considered scandalous. He loves managing chaos as long as he can control it.

Mary Kenny has lived in London for 20 years so she is out of touch with Ireland. She mentions a Roman Catholic priest who dies in gay sauna - another two priests were there to give him the last rites.

This book is well worth reading though those who know more literature than I will get more out of it than I did.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An intriguing collection of essays, August 22, 2003
In this series of essays, Colm Tóibín explores the lives of nine artists whose homosexuality greatly influenced their art, and whose art greatly influenced their lives. He writes about Oscar Wilde, Thomas Mann, Thom Gunn, Pedro Almodóvar, James Baldwin, Roger Casement, Elizabeth Bishop, Mark Doty, and Francis Bacon (with a final essay about Catholic Ireland and how it is changing, with references to Micheál Mac Liammóir and Cathal Ó Searchaigh). Tóibín writes about not only their lives and art, but also the challenge and limitation of being labeled a "gay artist". These essays are fascinating and illuminating, and are a welcome addition to literary criticism, especially since it's a fellow writer bringing an interesting view to the canon.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not as advertised, February 20, 2014
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This review is from: Love in a Dark Time: And Other Explorations of Gay Lives and Literature (Paperback)
If I had an accurate idea of what “Love in a Dark Time” would contain I would not have picked it up. The premise was intriguing, it is subtitled “Gay Lives from Wilde to Almodovar”, but this book is not really about that at all. The text contains a series of book and literary reviews that Colm Toibin wrote over a period of years, and he has now cobbled them into a collection. The fact that the subjects are gay, or most of them are, is really not the point. The title is misleading and anyone picking this text up for a social examination of prominent gay people will be sorely disappointed.
The essays in the book are unrelated, and Toibin has not even bothered to go back and revise them to create some kind of coherent thread that might link them. Especially unforgivable in this text is the book review about biographies of Thomas Mann which is clearly just plopped down to take up space. Also pointless is the essay on Almodovar, which again shares nothing with the collection’s supposed premise.
Now, if you don’t pick this book up under false pretenses, there are some good things to be had from it. The essay on Oscar Wilde has a lovely structure and gives a decent account of Wilde’s work and personal life. The essay on James Baldwin also stands out as one of the best, and most enlightening, in the book. It has something to say. I also appreciated the chapter on the poet Thom Gunn, who I had never heard of. I investigated his poetry as a result of this reading.
If you have a copy of “Love in a Dark Time” and are determined to read it I suggest reading one essay and then putting the book down. Go read another book, and then come back to this one and read another essay, and so on until done. Its faults will be less annoying if consumed in that manner. Colm Toibin is obviously a talented writer, I just wish he (or his editors) had more respect for the readers of this book and had put in some more effort to make it live up to its potential.
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