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Brooklyn - Book of the Month

by Colm Toibin

The story begins in Enniscorthy, Ireland in the 1950s. Our heroine, Eilis Lacey, has begun working as a shop girl in this small community where opportunity is limited. Her father is dead; her brothers, much missed by her mother, are working in England; and her older, more sophisticated sister, Rose, helps support the family with her earnings from an office job. When Rose meets the amiable Father Flood, on holiday in Ireland from the US, she conspires with him to arrange a job and lodgings in Brooklyn for Eilis.

Eilis is confused as to why she has been “chosen” to go to New York, a place that she never expected to see and not for the likes of her: a place to which Rose would have been better suited. But she agrees because there is no question of saying no and she is reassured a little by father Flood who tells her "Parts of Brooklyn are just like Ireland. They're full of Irish."

Eilis makes the trip across the Atlantic to end up at Mrs Kehoe’s boarding house where she gets on well enough with the other girls whose forward manners and stylish clothes intrigue her. She gets a job as a sales girl in a department store, attends book-keeping night classes and meets Tony, an Italian-American who offers her the chance of a bright future.

She is summonsed back to Ireland unexpectedly and, back home, she finds herself regarded as bright and glamorous. She quickly re-adjusts to her Irish life and very soon New York seems like a dream to her. Then she has to make a heart-breaking choice.

If this sounds like a simple story, it is. But this is where its power lies. Colm Toibin’s clarity and effortlessness writing convey the emigrant experience through Eilis Lacey quietly and with dignity. I loved it.

Read our interview with Colm Toibin.

Comments


lmj
I totally agree with your last paragraph. Contrast this with the Frank McCourt book on the same topic. Toibin doesn't overtly pluck your heartstrings, instead, allows the understated and the unsaid to do the work. Absolutely brilliant-loved it. Will go on to read his short stories-Mothers and Sons (or Sons and Mothers??)


Lily boston
I've just read this book and like your review -but, who wrote it, please? Eilis is a heroine who responds to others; rather than initiating anything she just agrees or goes along with others' arrangements - for going to Brooklyn, for work, evening classes, and changing rooms in Mrs Kehoe's boarding house - for all these she is "chosen" and wonders why. I think this is probably true for her relationships as well? Lots to consider from this book which I really enjoyed and found most moving. I'm now reading an unclassifiable book by Colm Toibin - The Sign of the Cross, Travels in Catholic Europe published 1994.


Bookgroup Info
Thank you Lily for your insightful comments. Irene Haynes wrote this review in the days before reviewers names were attached.




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