Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Review: Brooklyn: A Novel by Colm Toibin

by Colm Toibin Brooklyn
Title: Brooklyn: A Novel

Author: Colm Toibin

Pages: 262

Source: The library where I work

Rating: 9/10

Challenges: Read 'n' Review challenge

First Sentence: "Eilis Lacey, sitting at the window of the upstairs living room in the house on Friary Street, noticed her sister walking briskly from work."

Summary (From book flap):

Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the years following World War Two. Though skilled at bookkeeping, she cannot find a job in the miserable Irish economy. When and Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor Eilis in America -- to live and work in a Brooklyn neighborhood "just like Ireland" -- she decides she must go, leaving her fragile mother and her charismatic sister behind.

Eilis finds work in a department store on Fulton Street, and when she least expects it, finds love. Tony, a blond Italian from a big family, slowly wins her over with patient charm. He takes Eilis to Coney Island and Ebbets Field, and home to dinner in the two-room apartment he shares with his brothers and parents. He talks of having children who are Dodgers fans. But just as Eilis begins to fall in love with Tony, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her future.

My Two Cents:

I absolutely loved this novel. If I hadn't had other distractions to deal with, I easily could have finished it in an afternoon. It was short, but rich in characterization and lyricism.

The central character, Eilis, is just what anyone would expect of a fairly sheltered girl moving to a big city in a foreign country. After a lifetime spent in the shadow of her sister, she doesn't know how to act when all the focus is on her. It takes Eilis some time to gain her sea legs, so to speak, and even then she struggles somewhat with the female relationships into which her boarding situation forces her.She is a woman caught between two worlds, and the reader really gets to see that struggle. As the end of the book neared, I found myself growing angry with Eilis for some of the choices she made, but I also could see that her choices grew out of the way Toibin had characterized her for the bulk of the book.

My favorite character, though, was Tony. I couldn't help but smile nearly every time he came into the action. He was funny and charming and incredibly caring. You know how everyone on the Twilight bandwagon says they want to find their Edward? Well, I would want to find my Tony. I just adored him.

Toibin's writing is beautiful. He brings both small-town Ireland and big-city New York to life on the page, and he writes a very convincing female character in Eilis. Here's an example of his writing, chosen at random:

She lay on the bed with the letters beside her. For the past few weeks, she realized, she had not really thought of home. The town had come to her in flashing pictures, such as the one that had come during the afternoon of the sale, and she had thought of course of her mother and Rose, but her own life in Enniscorthy, the life she had lost and would never have again, she had kept out of her mind. Every day she had come back to this small room in this house full of sounds and gone over everything new that had happened. Now, all that seemed like nothing compared to the picture she had of home, of her own room, the house in Friary Street, the food she had eaten there, the clothes she wore, how quiet everything was.
The only criticism I have of this book is that Eilis makes a big choice in the end, but she doesn't make that choice for the reason I would have liked her to. Was the decision in character for her? Yes. Did it make sense? Yes. But, did I like the reason behind that choice? No, I didn't.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes vivid characters, flowing prose passages and coming-of-age stories.


Greg Zimmerman said...

I love the passage you included - I've always heard Toibin is a paragon, but never read him at all. Great review - I've added this to my wishlist.

Have you read The Master? (I've had that on my shelf for years....)

Diane said...

I liked this book a lot as well; excellent review.

Mari said...

This is one of my top 5 reads for 2009! LOVED IT!

Jenners said...

This is the second review of this book I've read today and both of you mentioned the ending. Now I'm very very curious!

Eva said...

I read a different Toibin, The Master, and very much enjoyed it! I'll definitely give Brooklyn a go now. :D

Booksnyc said...

I am anxiously awaiting my turn for this one - my Mom us reading it now. I really like this author (have read Blackwater Lightship and The Master) and this story of an Irish immigrant in NYC mirrors my Mom's life so I am very interested in reading this one!

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