REVIEW: BROOKLYN, BY COLM TOIBIN

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We first meet Eilis Lacey in her small town in Ireland: Enniscorthy, on Friary Street. The author sweeps us up into the world of the Lacey family: her sister Rose and her sad mother; the town, with some of the young people; and the shops. It is the 1950s, revealed to us in the styles, mannerisms, and expectations of the times.

Rose has a good job for the local mills, but there are few possibilities for Eilis, with only a dull job in a local shop to bring in a little extra money for the family. A situation which inspires Father Flood to begin talking about an opportunity for her in America, in Brooklyn, where many Irish people have settled.

Soon the plan is in place, and the details of how it all comes about bring the reader into the moments of leaving; of the passage, with all the sea sickness; the newness of a life beyond the village.

After her arrival, she moves into a boarding house arranged by Father Flood, which consists of Mrs. Kehoe, a rather controlling woman, and several young women.

Eilis has work in a nice shop, and soon is taking night classes to become a bookkeeper.

Dances, church, charity events…her life fills up and becomes routine. When she meets Tony, a young Italian boy at a dance, everything begins to change.

What happens near the end of the second year that changes everything for Eilis? How will she deal with revisiting the old village to see her mother after a family tragedy? What will become of her and Tony? What dilemma will Eilis face upon her return to Ireland?

Brooklyn was the kind of story that might seem quiet and even ordinary, on the surface, but the rich details and the vivid portrayals of the various characters kept me engrossed all the way through, experiencing a new life along with Eilis, feeling her awe at each new event. Like baseball, hot dogs, Coney Island. And love.

I felt swept away by how the author showed us Eilis’s inner thoughts as she came to some decisions. I enjoyed watching the interactions between the young women in the boarding house, and loving how Eilis was learning how to stand up for herself. And after her return visit to Enniscorthy, I appreciated how her time in America had changed her, how we could see her growth as she dealt with her demanding mother and her old friends. I could now imagine how her future would unfold. 5 stars.

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4 thoughts on “REVIEW: BROOKLYN, BY COLM TOIBIN

    • I saw the movie first, Mary, and the book matched perfectly. I loved both! Thanks for stopping by, and I would love to visit Ireland. My eldest son lived there for several months in the 1990s, and had a showing of his Ireland photos when he returned. I have some on my walls. I’ll have to ask him if he was in Enniscorthy, as the name doesn’t ring a bell.

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