Jul 15

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin


by Colm Toibin


First Published in 2009
Publisher: Penguin Viking

Click to buy Brooklyn by Colm Toibin with free delivery

Book Synopsis:

Work in 1950s Ireland is hard to find. Eilis Lacey does what she thinks is best and makes the long and arduous journey across the Atlantic to Brooklyn, America. For the first time, Eilis is on her own, in a strange city, living in a boarding house filled with other working girls and a scrutinizing landlady. Eilis is isolated and far away from home.

Gradually, however, as Eilis gets used to her new life, her job working in a department store, taking evening classes in book keeping, Friday night dances in the church hall, and maybe an American man… Eilis starts to realize, she’s found a kind of happiness.

But where does Eilis belong? In Ireland with her family or in her new found home, Brooklyn?

My Book Review:

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin was recommended in the Straits Times News Paper (Singapore’s national newspaper) as one of the Best Novels of 2009. (Also recommended was The Housekeeper and The Professor by Yoko Ogawa)

Upon reading Brooklyn, I was surprised that it received such a high recommendation in The Straits Times. Colm Toibin’s story is indeed interesting, and at times very absorbing. His protagonist, Eilis, was identifiable in her loneliness. However, I wouldn’t put it on my best book recommendation list.

Towards the beginning, I thought uh oh… this is going to be a depressing book. You know there are some books that start depressing and remain down in the dumps with no light at the end of the tunnel? Those books bug me, as they have a strange effect on my mood and make me think dreary thoughts, just like the characters. I sometimes have to stop reading those books. Stories should have light, dark and moments of shade. Luckily with Brooklyn, it did not stay in a rut for too long and elements of light and love came to the fore. Thank God!

I enjoyed the way Toibin writes, but I found it strange yet interesting that he seemed to skip over important moments in the story. For example, Eilis’s farewell to her mother is skipped in the chronology of her journey. I would have thought this would have been one of the most important moments. Yet, I understood why this was skirted over – so it could be left to the imagination, as a reader, you know what it’ll be like, so the writer felt he didn’t have to spell it out. I found this approach interesting for me, a wannabe writer, to take note of. Skip the boring bits. Having said that, Toibin’s penchant for little, almost disjointed, anecdotes about Eilis’s settling in period was frustrating, interrupting what could have been a nice flow. I don’t know, I’m not a writer (yet), but this was my opinion as a lay-reader.

In the synopsis, I have left out the last paragraph that gives away the ending. So if you hate spoilers as I do, don’t read ahead:

Mini Spoiler Alert!

I’m still going to be a bit vague and broad about the actual contents of the story. I am a person who will not be excited about reading a book, or watching a movie if I already know the ending. I know some people who are completely different, who can’t stand the suspense and have to read the last page or chapter of a book first in order to decide of they are going to read it at all. (Absurd in my opinion!)

Anyway, back to Brooklyn.

There is a devastating event that occurs towards the end of the book and causes Eilis to be put in a situation where she has to choose between two worlds. I think the clever and trapping aspect of this book is that both choices are right, and yet both choices are wrong. Whatever decision she makes, she is going to hurt someone.

As a reader, I made my choice of who she should choose, but then at the end of the book when she did choose, I was not left with the satisfaction that she chose ‘right’, but with the sense that all of it was wrong. Whatever decision she made, it would leave her empty and incomplete.

Having said this, I was distinctly unmoved by the ending. I think this goes back to the author skipping over bits of the story,  skirting over the character’s emotions and reactions that the readers want to know, and probably should know. For example, (Again, vague. I’m sorry, I cant help it! I just don’t want to spoil the ending for you!) when Eilis betrays someone, we see her actions, but we don’t hear her reaction to what she is doing. I think my involvement at the end would have been fuller, if I had been given this insight. To hear more of her thoughts would have helped me be more empathetic.

I did enjoy reading Brooklyn, I liked the character of Eilis and the journey she went on, but I certainly wouldn’t call it my best book of the year.

x Julie

Online Bookstore and Book Review Site

- Reading Like Rabbits -

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  1. Keep posting stuff like this i really like it

  2. Julie says:

    Hi Julie

    Enjoyed your review of Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn, and wondered whether you might like to put a question to Colm Tóibín about this book? BBC World Book Club on the World Service is interviewing him on 6th July and would love to hear from you. We’re always keen to get questions from readers around the world with both positive and negative criticism of the books. If you could email me at World.Bookclub@bbc.co.uk as soon as you can with a question about the book (anything – doesn’t have to be particularly clever!), we can either arrange for you to talk to Colm Tóibín himself, or have our presenter put your question to him for you. Then you get to hear your question on BBC World Service Radio. The programme will air on 6th August at 11.00hrs on the BBC World Service. Please do get in touch.

    Best wishes,
    BBC World Book Club