Brooklyn, Colm Tóibín


Even though she let these thoughts run as fast as they would, she still stopped when her mind moved towards real fear or dread or, worse, towards the thought that she was going to lose this world for ever, that she would never have an ordinary day again in this ordinary place, that the rest of her life would be a struggle with the unfamiliar.

My aunt has lent me the novel Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín while I’ve been traveling with her for the holidays. She warned me she was disappointed in the prose of the novel, and I’ve come away with the novel feeling precisely that as well, and particularly surprised by that since, firstly, Colm Tóibín is an author with many awards to his name and, secondly, Brooklyn has been made into a movie by Hollywood this year…

Brooklyn isn’t a particularly revolutionary or risky story — it follows a young Irish woman, Eilis Lacey, in the 1950’s who gets a job in Brooklyn, USA after struggling to find work in Ireland. Eilis’ sister Rose arranges the job for her and Eilis finds herself quite daunted and emotionally ill-prepared for the massive life change. The novel follows her, her struggles of homesickness, and quest to better herself through college classes while balancing work at a department store and newfound love.

My issues with this novel primarily reside in the tone of the story. Tóibín chose to tell the story in a very detached way never allowing the reader to really feel Eilis’ emotions. The mechanics in the story structure, and even in the general sentence structure of his prose, are repetitive and rather dull. I was hoping to feel more motivated in reading Eilis’ story, but most of my motivation to read until the very end didn’t come until later.

I will be honest that my interest finally began to pique about the time that Eilis meets a young Italian-American man named Tony. I don’t like to think that as a reader I’m usually only interested in romantic subplots rather than a heroines’ larger quests of self-discovery or self-betterment… but, I feel in Brooklyn this is really where Tóibín’s detached tone may have actually worked. As Eilis, a honestly rather nervous and introverted character, meets Tony, gets to know him and falls into the 1950’s courtship rituals, the narration calmly dissects every aspect. I felt really only then so much empathy for Eilis as a character who very rationally weighs Tony’s strengths and weaknesses, carefully analyzes his role in her life, and gradually allows herself to be immersed in the warmness of his intentions and honest feelings for her.

While there are certainly many reasons for readers to be doubtful about the strength of love in Tony and Eilis’ relationship, Tóibín’s distant tone casts little judgment. I believe there are so many passionate romances in literature, I think it can fuel so much doubt about what romance and love really are in real life. Many of the lines about the love between Eilis and Tony almost completely echoed my own experiences, feelings, and doubts, and that is something I will always appreciate about this novel. Often that’s all that is needed to be a memorable read.

As in Room, I’ve attached the trailer for the movie that was released just this winter. The film’s screenplay was written by a favourite writer of mine, Nick Hornby (who apparently rewrote the ending!), and features the lovely Saoirse Ronan who I am certain breathes a lot of life into Eilis’ character.

P.S. After finishing Brooklyn, I’ve discovered that Colm lived three years here in Barcelona and has written at least two novels about the city! Perhaps his writing on Barcelona has a slightly warmer style.

Books read: 7


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