Most helpful critical review
12 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Will deepen your passion for reading and also put you off a writer or two
on July 3, 2012
This is an interesting work of popular literary criticism. The theme, of the ways writers tax their families and loved ones, is starkly presented. Toibin avoids editorial comment over the often very destructive behavior many of his subjects exhibit; excessive drinking is just simply rampant.
A few essays feel like Toibin is meditating on writers he admires so deeply he can't quite explain it, other than to review their lives with a kind of quiet awe. Roddy Doyle's section is one such essay that made me think that.
The chapter on Yeats made me despise the man and wonder what incredible lies I'd been taught, that he was a genius. His suffering wife is the main subject here and Yeats's "writing" is hardly discussed. The scene that did it was the description of Yeats at a seance asking about ex-girlfriends, in front of his wife. That struck me as puerile.
Actually, this is a major takeaway, one that Toibin would have done well to discuss. Many of these writers are simply immature jerks who graphomaniacally record their every thought. Is that writing? It seems to be but less than it used to be. I could not get over Cheever's or Yeats's antics, doing things like playing off guillable students against each other. These are grown men and supposedly geniuses! They are false idols if ever there were ones. The fact that this rather huge point is not drawn takes away from the book.
the introduction is quite dense and hard to follow, but don't let that put you off. Also, the writers here are "serious" authors; the workmanship of genre and popular authors is not covered here.