Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin


Pages - 252
Published by Penguin Books in 2009
Challenges - New York Challenge and What's in a Name Challenge
Eilis Lacey, sitting at the window of the upstairs living room in the house on Friary Street , noticed her sister walking briskly from work. She watched Rose crossing the street from sunlight into shade, carrying the new leather handbag that she had bought in Clery's in Dublin in the sale. Rose was wearing a cream-coloured cardigan over her shoulders. Her golf clubs were in the hall: in a few minutes , Eilis knew, someone would call for her and her sister would not return until the summer evening had faded.
This is the story of Eilis, who unable to find regular work in her home town is packed off by her sister to live in Brooklyn, New York, where it is hoped a new life will await her. Eilis is frightened by the prospect of this new life and the thought of leaving her family, but she doesn't show it and she ventures off to the unknown. Her journey to America by boat, is long and arduous and by the time Eilis arrives, she is exhausted.
Father Flood, an acquaintance of her sister, helps her to settle into her rooms at Mrs Kehoes and takes her to her new job at the department store. At first, Eilis, is living in dream world, yet a few weeks later, homesickness sets in and she begins to struggle with her new life. Father Flood steps in to ease her pain and soon finds her an evening course to keep her occupied. As time passes, Eilis settles well into her new life and soon meets an Italian boy and romance blossoms. As her second year in Brooklyn nears an end, life in Ireland is put back into the forefront of her mind and she knows that she must go home to deal with the situation that has arisen. Will she decide to stay in Ireland or will Brooklyn softly call her name, yearning for her return.
How on earth has a writer as brilliant as Colm Toibin, slipped past my radar. I was utterly gobsmacked by this book. The way it is written is beautiful and within the first chapter, you are lost in the world of the characters. The story is a very simple one and not overloaded with drama, yet it has your attention and your thirst for more, right from the start. I was amazed that Toibin could create such an absorbing book from such a simple story.
The sentences are long and packed full of detail, so you don't feel that you are missing any aspect of the story. Toibin is definitely a very visual writer and his words convey such beautiful and interesting pictures.
Eilis appears at the beginning of the book as very young and naive, but after spending some time living independently you begin to watch Eilis grow into her own personality and become a woman of similar substance to her beloved sister. Eilis knows which direction she wants her life to go and doesn't feel that any of her decisions are hasty, yet one decision really does affect her choices at the end of the book.
I couldn't help but feel that Eilis's mother relied far too heavily on her daughters. Her daughter Rose, pays all the bills and keeps a roof over her mother's head. When Eilis returns, her mother seems to play on her emotions to try and keep her in Ireland and makes decisions for her, rather than allowing Eilis to decide for herself.
I loved the feel of Brooklyn during the 1950's. It sounded so vibrant and full of life and very multi cultural, yet with each group of immigrants keeping within their own groups and bringing a piece of their country to America.
The ending of the book left me in deep thought. I wondered whether I would have made the same decision as Eilis did. I felt that she had been sent to Brooklyn against her will, yet now that her previous life has changed, she is expected to give up her new life and return home. It reminded me of the phrase,'taking candy from a baby'. I felt that she was being treated like a chess piece and her mother could move her around depending on her whim.
This is definitely a book that stays with you once you have finished it. It is over a week since I read it, yet I still keep on returning to scenes in the book in my mind. I kept wondering how Eilis's life would turn out after the decision she made.
I am now an official fan of Colm Toibin and can't wait to read more of his books.
Other reviews of this book

20 comments:

  1. I love the way you describe the book and how the characters and details sucked you right into the story. I have a thing for books that make me think and reflect long after they're finished. Thanks for the review, Viv. I'll keep Toibin in mind.

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  2. A great review. Your descriptions are such that if I close my eyes I can picture the scene.
    Brooklyn doesn't particularly interest me but I do love anything to do with the 1950's.

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  3. So happy to see you enjoyed this book; I did as well - it was my first time with this author.

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  4. This book has been on my radar for a while and you've convinced me that it needs to go on my wish list!

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  5. Hm, I might have seen this book at the library today, perhaps I should borrow it one day

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  6. Great review! I just bought the ebook version of this and it looks wonderful. Being from Brooklyn, I'm really looking forward to this one.

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  7. I've been meaning to read this book since it came out, but I haven't gotten around to it. I confess, the cover you showed is absolutely beautiful, and I love it! I'm looking forward to this one even more after reading how much you liked it!

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  8. Hmm, I try to post a comment earlier but now I see that it didn't work, so I will say it again: The books sounds engaging and I thank you for your review!

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  9. Hmm, I try to post a comment earlier but now I see that it didn't work, so I will say it again: The books sounds engaging and I thank you for your review!

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  10. "I was utterly gobsmacked by this book."

    I am, too, thanks to your review!

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  11. I'm so glad you liked this one! I don't know when I'll have a chance to read it, but I think it's getting a lot more attention in Chicago recently after it was chosen as the city-wide read for book club. Yay :-)

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  12. Between you and Mrs B at the Literary Stew recently, I'm determined to read this sooner rather than later. It sounds like a book I'd love.

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  13. Onto my list it goes! I too have never heard of this author--thank you for the wonderful review....
    *smiles*

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  14. Oh I love books that you linger over long after you finish them. Really enjoyed your review of this one. I remember hearing about it when it came out and you've just reminded me to make sure to add it to my list!

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  15. Ooh, I've been wondering about this one! I love books about emigrants in the US so I'll definitely be adding this one to my list!

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  16. thanks for linking me Vivienne. I'm glad you enjoyed it too and yes I agree that it's a book that stays with you. I'd like to comment on the ending so Spoiler Alert for those who haven't read it stop here.

    At first after finishing the book I thought Eilis had made the wrong choice but days later I realised she had made the right one. She was on holiday in Ireland after all and when one is on holiday, everything is viewed through rose-coloured glasses. Who knows what the Irish lad would have been like when she actually got to know him? I remember in a beginning scene he was quite rude to her and I thought his explanation for it later was a lame one. Tony was a sweetie and I think she would never have married him if she didn't love him.

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  17. I wasn't as big of a fan of this one as most people seem to be. I was expecting a little more, although what, I don't know. You know that slight feeling of dissatisfaction that you have with some books? I'm afraid that was me with this one.

    I think I have another one of Toibin's books around here somewhere...I should give him another try.

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  18. I really want to read this one. But it's been permanently checked out at the library :(

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  19. This sounds enchanting and like something I would definitely enjoy! I'm an endless quest to read books about the American immigrant experience... it's so fascinating to me. Probably because our families were all immigrants at some point. :) Great review!

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