“None of them could help her. She had lost all of them. They would not find out about this; she would not put it into a letter. And because of this she understood that they would never know her now. Maybe, she thought, they had never known her, any of them, because if they had, then they would have had to realise what this would be like for her.”
A 2009 award-winning novel written by Irish author Colm Tóibín, Brooklyn is a historical period drama set in 1950s Ireland. The story follows Eilis Lacey, a young Irish girl who reluctantly moves to Brooklyn with the promise of a job. Although Eilis didn’t want to leave the comfort of her quaint hometown and the company of her mother and sister, the initial shackles of homesickness quickly diminish when she is swept into a fresh romance with Italian plumber Tony Fiorello. But when tragedy forces Eilis back to Ireland, she is faced with temptation when the charming Jim Farrell enters her life. With her new vivacity disrupted by her past, Eilis must now choose between two countries and two loves.
The following post is a review of the book only. You can read my review of the film adaptation in comparison to the book here.
Colm Tóibín‘s novel is a literary delight. Incredibly well written, Tóibín uses plain prose and a simple linear structure, but his writing reads like poetry as he adds detached detail to almost every sentence. It’s easy to see why the novel is so well praised, telling a simple story about a young girl transforming into a woman, finding her own way in life as an immigrant in a big city.
But although I enjoyed reading the novel, it was pretty uneventful for the most part and it was only until the final few chapters where we meet Jim that I was eager to read through until the end and find out what happens.
I didn’t particularly relate to Eilis, as she is quite a dull character at the beginning, but the book takes its time to allow Eilis to develop into a stronger character who you can engage with. As the novel opens, Eilis is sat watching the people in her town out of her window, observing their lives rather than living her own. She has few passions, but mainly she does as she is told, and it is these constraints that paint her personality traits.
Much like she didn’t have any choice in moving to Brooklyn at the beginning, Eilis doesn’t have much of a choice in either of her relationships, either, as she constantly floats between decisions that are being made for her. The ultimatum that she is faced with at the end of the story isn’t really down to her, as she must choose between having what she’s always wanted, but under the watchful eyes of everybody around her, or returning to America where she is granted more freedom, but where she must live the life that Tony has had planned for her all along.
It’s a difficult situation to relate to, and it’s because of these constraints that Eilis doesn’t flourish off the page. Then again, the story is set in 1950s Ireland and women did have to conform to society, and if Eilis wasn’t so naive and inexperienced, this wouldn’t be the story that it is.
By the end, Eilis stands up for herself for the first time in her life, which is truly admirable, even if I was rooting for the other guy all along. It’s these final few chapters in which we see Eilis for who she really is, and as you put the book down you will find yourself feeling completely different about her.
With Tóibín’s beautiful descriptions and use of elegant language, Brooklyn is a simple but charming story that takes you on a very personal and emotional journey.
Brooklyn was adapted into a film in 2015, which you can read my Book vs. Film Review for here, and watch the trailer for below: