Thursday, October 22, 2015

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

Eilis is a smart girl. She wants to be a bookkeeper but the only job she can get is working Sunday mornings at the local grocery shop. She wishes she were as beautiful as her sister Rose, but feels snubbed by the 'rugby set' at the parish dances. When she realizes her older sister has arranged for her to leave their village in Ireland for better opportunities in Brooklyn she is not excited but neither does she voice her reluctance. She us a girl who is used to doing what is expected of her.
...she was going to lose this world for ever...she would never have an ordinary day again in this ordinary place...the rest of her life with be a struggle with the unfamiliar.
In Brooklyn everything is arranged for her, the room at the boarding house, the job on the floor of a fancy shop. What no one has warned her about, including her brothers who left Ireland for England, was that overwhelming homesickness also awaited her in Brooklyn.
She was nobody here. It was not just that she had no friends and family; it was that she was a ghost in this room, in the streets on the way to work, on the shop floor. Nothing meant anything...Nothing here was part of her. it was false, empty, she thought.
She takes evening college classes to fill her mind and nights. She goes to the local dances with the other boarding house girls and meets an Italian American boy, Tony. He is a nice boy, a cheerful lad, a respectful beau. And he loves Eilis. She begins to believe she loves him when she learns that Rose has died. She arranges to go  home, planning to be away a month before returning to her new life with a promised bookkeeping job and a husband. But once home, Eilis becomes entangled and is faced with a terrible choice.

The book is quiet, Eilis is passive, the writing elegant and beautiful. In an interview Toibin said he used the memory of his own homesickness when abroad to inform Eilis. I felt her homesickness, something I know quite well. I love Toibin's writing, nothing flashy and loud, but poignant and grounded in shared, real life experiences.

Nora Webster is mentioned in the book; Nora had her own novel last year, which I reviewed here.

Brooklyn has been made into a movie! See the preview here:
https://youtu.be/iWgCwrJ5Jzc

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Brooklyn
Colm Toibin
Penguin Books
ISBN: 9780141041742