Newest Review: ... her mother and sister in a small town where there are no real prospects. Her sister arranges for her to emigrate to America where a job h... more
Interesting characters, bittersweet story of possibilities
Brooklyn - Colm Tóibín
Member Name: helenc72
Brooklyn - Colm Tóibín
Date: 22/03/12, updated on 19/07/12 (30 review reads)
Advantages: Well written, interesting historical story with a believable dilemma
Disadvantages: I would have liked more detail on some issues
This is the first book I have read by Colm Toibin and I recently picked it up at a book fair as the comment on the cover "Winner of the 2009 Costa Novel Award" caught my eye. I try to keep up with some of the award winners if I get the chance and when I read a few Costa award winners previously I discovered some good novels that way. Brooklyn has very promising reviews on the sleeve, such as "unforgettable" from the Spectator, "novel of the year" from the Sunday Times and "the most compelling and moving portrait of a young woman I have read in a long time" from Zoe Heller. This praise and the fact that my own family are Irish immigrants made me take a chance on this book.
The story is about Eilis Lacey, a young Irish woman in the 1950s who lives with her mother and sister in a small town where there are no real prospects. Her sister arranges for her to emigrate to America where a job has been lined up for her. We follow her progress in America and then reach a turning point towards the end of the book, where some shocking news means that Eilis has to make a hard decision about her future. I don't want to include too much more about the plot as I think it is better not to already know what is going to happen when you read it.
Colm Toibin has quite a literary reputation and Brooklyn is very well written, but accessible. His description is excellent and I very much enjoyed his characterisation. Some of the characters are vividly brought to life, such as the stuck up Irish shopkeeper Miss Kelly and the landlord Mrs Kehoe in America as well as Eilis' many flatmates. I was interested to find out that Colm Toibin himself grew up in Enniscorthy, the town where the character Eilis and her family come from, so I expect his portrayal of the place and time and probably quite accurate. I did find it all believeable based on what I have heard from older Irish family members.
The historical aspect of this book was interesting and I would have liked a little more information on some topics. I was interested by the sections about racism in America and I would have liked a little more on this.
I found the character Eilis very interesting and was sympathetic to her. I see another reviewer said it was frustrating that we did not get enough insight into how Eilis really felt and thought, but personally I got quite a strong sense of her and quite identified, especially at the end when she comes across as quite weak with regard to her decision and almost seems to be led in another direction without even fighting it or thinking of what she really wants. She came across as very human to me. She is someone whose life was planned out simply and she had very little expectations beyond marriage and an office job in her home town, so it's not surprising that she found it hard to cope when her life suddenly spanned two continents and she had to grow up and think for herself. By the end I was left with the sense that you can never really know whether you are doing the right thing. There are lots of possible lives we could end up with and many of them would be good, decent lives but whatever you do you will always have regrets and "what ifs".
I enjoyed this book and I think it would appeal to all ages. I am going to give it to my grandmother who emigrated from Ireland herself in the late 40s or early 50s.
It is a quick read as the book is short at only approx 250 pages.
Summary: Worth reading for the history and the characters