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Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín
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Brooklyn

by Colm Tóibín

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3,3982381,589 (3.68)449
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Showing 1-5 of 223 (next | show all)
This is one of my favourite novels. The main character, independent yet passive, sensitive and self-contained, along with all the small details of her life in New York, moved me and lingered in my mind afterwards.

Set in the 1950s, it is about a young Irish girl, Eilis, who lives with her widowed mother and glamorous older sister, Rose. Although they will miss Eilis greatly, Rose and her mother, with the help of the priest Father Flood, create a plan for her to move to New York so that she can have a better life with more opportunities. So Eilis somewhat reluctantly leaves her small town and close family, and sets out alone on the long journey to Brooklyn.

The first part of the book describes her new life: working in a department store, living in a lodging house run by an Irish landlady, and taking book-keeping classes in the evenings. In the lodging house, there are four other Irish women: two young girls, Patty and Diana, who are (in Eilis’ word) ‘man-mad’ and always dressing up and going out on the town. The other two, known as Miss McAdam and Miss Heffernan, are slightly older, prim and disapproving of the younger girls’ antics. The relationships with the other boarders and her landlady are important but Eilis doesn’t completely fit into either group and this begins the characterisation of her as a fairly solitary person, who maintains her individuality and own opinions, despite being outwardly quiet and polite. Although she is painfully homesick at first, she is also shown as being receptive to all the fascinating new experiences that New York offers her.

A very important part of Eilis’ new life is the community of Irish people living in New York, brought together by church-organised events such as dances, which can bring the hope of romance, and the special Christmas dinner arranged for people who would otherwise be alone. Eilis helps out by serving food at this event and I loved this scene, especially the very moving description of an older man singing at the end of the dinner.

After some time of loneliness, Eilis meets a man and starts a relationship with him. I enjoyed reading about this, the way the relationship developed, the differences between the two characters, the way that Eilis fell quite passively into the affair (she was chosen, rather than choosing) but then love grew between them. Eilis is then called back to Ireland suddenly and forced to compare her old and new lives. I think the book shows how it is possible to adapt and create a life wherever one is, but that often it is only chance that has led us to one place, one job, one marriage. It made clear to me how powerless Eilis in particular was, as a young girl, but equally how there were things in her life that she did possess and love: her room, her books, the walk to work through the streets of Brooklyn in the morning.

Brooklyn is written in a very understated way, leaving room for the reader’s own interpretations. There’s a kind of blankness to the writing sometimes, which gives it a very particular atmosphere, and seems appropriate to a quiet, solitary character such as Eilis. It almost has a sense of mystery to it, although not in the conventional sense, and I was sometimes left wondering what was going on under the surface. After all, Eilis doesn’t have much opportunity to express or dwell on her feelings, and all her energy is used adapting to her new life. Even at the start of the novel, in Ireland, there was a sense of restraint, of the need to be quiet and keep secrets. I think, finally, the style of this book was what made me love it. ( )
  papercat | Jun 24, 2017 |
Perhaps the most boring book I have ever read...the writing felt stilted and contrived. It felt like a list of ideas Toibin should include in the novel but never got around to fleshing out. Utterly pointless - I can't imagine how excruciatingly boring the film must be. ( )
  Tamsin17 | Jun 11, 2017 |
Doors opened and closed, sunlight and shade, yesterdays and tomorrows; these are all motifs that come to mind as I consider the beauty of Colm Toibin's poignant novel, Brooklyn. Brooklyn is the tomorrow when the novel begins and almost becomes the yesterday that is forgotten as Toibin shares the story of Eilis Lacey in his own unsensational way. From the start the importance of her family permeates the book as seen in the simple opening 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." (p 3)

Her sister, Rose, along with her mother are important in Eilis's young life as she experiences the opening and closing of doors. The way Eilis who appears almost stoic at times, yet is full of emotional turmoil inside, handles the major changes in her life is both touching and endearing. I often tell a close friend that I do not love (or hate) a character in a book, but I grew to love Eilis as her character matured. For this is also an Irish-American bildungsroman with Eilis, encouraged by her sister, growing and learning and maturing into a woman who must face some difficult decisions.
Colm Toibin tells this story through the accumulation of small moments that gradually cohere to form a novel that deals with profound questions of love and life and death. He is at his best when he describes how difficult it is for Eilis to communicate her innermost desires with those closest to her. His abililty to describe the impact of both memories on the moment and the being of the other resonated with my own experience. Meditating on her family that she left in Ireland she muses: "they would never know her now. Maybe, she thought, they had never known her, any of them" (p 73)

The otherness of Eilis that permeates the novel arises not only from the isolation of an Irish girl in Brooklyn, but also from the tensions that develop as she tries to develop her own identity as a woman and face the choices she must make as one. It is in these choices, the lyrical beauty of Toibin's prose, and the impression that you are left with - a feeling that you have shared a part of the life of this young woman from Ireland - that make this a meaningful novel. ( )
  jwhenderson | Apr 20, 2017 |
A fast read, and I did find myself wanting to know how Eilis' story would turn out. But the book fell short for me in a couple ways. First, the style, though refreshingly direct, was nearly all "telling." She thought, she wondered, she decided, she felt and felt and felt. Yes, it's a legitimate style, but left me sleepy. Second, so many plot threads turned out to be rabbit trails; I thought there would be more to the story. I did enjoy this enough to try another of Toibin's books. ( )
  SonjaYoerg | Mar 6, 2017 |
It took me a while to get around to Colm Tóbín’s 2009 novel Brooklyn, a book I only learned of after having first become aware of the 2016 movie based upon it. After noticing that the movie screenplay had been written by Nick Hornby, a writer whose worked I’ve consistently enjoyed over the years, I realized that it might be fun to read the novel and then watch the movie in order to determine what aspects of the novel’s plot Hornby had changed for the film. That, at least, was my plan. But as it happened, I ended up watching the movie just before I read the last fifty pages of Tóbín’s book – and I’m glad I did it that way because I easily spotted a couple of changes made by Hornby that were more satisfying than the book’s plot. Overall, however, as almost happens to me, I prefer the book to the movie – but highly recommend both, in this case. (And I learned to correctly pronounce “Eilis,” the main character’s first name.)

World War II is over but times in small-town Ireland are still tough, especially for young men and women searching for work. Because her three brothers have already moved to England to take jobs there, Eilis Lacey, the youngest of five children, now lives at home with only her sister and widowed mother. Rose Lacey has a real mind for numbers and has succeeded in finding a coveted office job for herself where she is both loved and respected for the quality of her work. The best that Eilis has been able to come up with, however, is a part-job clerking in the tiny general store belonging to one of the most unlikable human beings walking the face of the earth, Miss Kelly. And that’s about the time that an Irish immigrant priest visiting from his parish in Brooklyn comes calling upon the Lacey household with an offer to sponsor Eilis for the purposes of her permanent immigration to the U.S., including even a department store job that he can pretty much already guarantee her.

Almost before she knows it, Eilis (who gets the distinct impression that her mother and sister both believe this is the best chance at a good life Eilis will ever get) is on a ten-day voyage to New York. And, although in this case the old saying that “getting there is half the fun” does not even begin to apply, when Eilis arrives in Brooklyn she learns that everything Father Flood promised her is ready and waiting.

Thus begins the big adventure that will be the rest of Eilis Lacey’s life. Because she knows no one in New York other than the good Father Flood, Elis will have to adjust to her new life with little help from anyone, including her prudish and standoffish landlady and the five women she shares her meals with every day. Eilis finds her life in America as very different, if not necessarily better, than the one she left behind in Ireland. And then things get complicated: she meets and slowly falls in love with Tony at a Sunday night church dance – complicated because Tony is Italian, not Irish, a fact that neither his family or her friends will easily accept.

Bottom Line: Brooklyn is a memorable novel about the immigrant experience and those brave enough to undertake it. Tóibín has filled it with striking characters, a few perhaps a bit on the stereotypical side, that give the novel the feel of a much longer family saga. All in all, I rate this a 4-star book, about one-half a star more than I award to its movie version, beautifully filmed as that may be. ( )
  SamSattler | Feb 20, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 223 (next | show all)
Ultimately, Brooklyn does not feel limited. Tóibín makes a single incision, but it’s extraordinarily well-placed and strikes against countless nerve-ends. The novel is a compassionate reminder that a city must be made of people before it can be made of myths.
 
In tracking the experience, at the remove of half a century, of a girl as unsophisticated and simple as Eilis — a girl who permits herself no extremes of temperament, who accords herself no right to self-assertion — Toibin exercises sustained subtlety and touching respect. . .

In “Brooklyn,” Colm Toibin quietly, modestly shows how place can assert itself, enfolding the visitor, staking its claim.
 
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Eilis Lacey, sitting at the window of the upstairs living room in the house on Friary Street, noticed her sister walking briskly from work.
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Brooklyn, is set in Brooklyn and Ireland in the early 1950s, when one young woman crosses the ocean to make a new life for herself.

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 an 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.
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It is Enniscorthy in the southeast of Ireland in the early 1950s. Eilis Lacey is one among many of her generation who cannot find work at home. Thus when a job is offered in America, it is clear to everyone that she must go.

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