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Brooklyn

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Hauntingly beautiful and heartbreaking, Colm Tóibín's sixth novel, 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.

262 pages, Hardcover

First published April 29, 2009

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About the author

Colm Tóibín

202 books3,213 followers
Colm Tóibín FRSL, is an Irish novelist, short story writer, essayist, playwright, journalist, critic, and poet. Tóibín is currently Irene and Sidney B. Silverman Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University in Manhattan and succeeded Martin Amis as professor of creative writing at the University of Manchester.

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5 stars
21,666 (20%)
4 stars
43,651 (40%)
3 stars
32,321 (29%)
2 stars
8,734 (8%)
1 star
1,796 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 11,791 reviews
Profile Image for Angela.
512 reviews95 followers
January 3, 2010
It's hard to read anything about books without hearing gushing praise for Brooklyn, so I settled in for a brilliant work about immigration and America and New York and alienation and crushing hard work and etc. Brooklyn, though, is no The Jungle or Call It Sleep. Set partially in 1950-ish Ireland and partly in Brooklyn, the novel follows spineless and benign Eilis through her voyage to the United States (arranged by her sister and a kind priest), where she receives a job, is enrolled some classes, is encouraged to do volunteer work, is set up with lodging at a boarding house, gets picked up and courted by a faultless Italian American, etc. All passive voice intentional. She doesn't really make any decisions on her own until the end of the novel, and even that was basically for lack of realistic alternative options.

Other than a tragic death in the family and a little homesickness, nothing bad ever happens to Eilis and there isn't any real conflict. At some point she has to choose between her life in New York and a roughly equivalent life back in Ireland, but she studiously avoids finding out anything that could force her to form an opinion. We are teased with tantalizing potential plot threads: a brilliant professor who might be a Holocaust survivor and is impressed by her curiosity about her bookkeeping law classes, her unpleasant landlord and her unpleasant old boss communicating and exposing her brief "double life," an Italian boyfriend who looks suspiciously unlike the rest of his family. But no worries, these aren't pursued into anything that would risk causing conflict.

In defense of the novel, I found myself very compelled to finish it, the prose is serviceable if not brilliant, and it is in general a thoroughly pleasant read. My ORD->DEN flight went by delightfully quickly because of it. And now I'll go back to Henry Roth.
Profile Image for Jim Fonseca.
1,086 reviews7,013 followers
December 19, 2021
[Edited 12/19/21]
Assuming we have a reliable narrator, we can date this story by the newly-released movie she views - Singing in the Rain - so it’s 1952.

A young Irish woman emigrates to Brooklyn. Back in Ireland, she has three brothers all working in England, as well as an older sister who will now stay home to take care of their aging mother. The older sister, who happens to be more attractive, athletic and ambitious, sacrifices her possibility of a normal married life for her younger sister. Our heroine chooses the US over England because those who went to England missed Enniscorthy (her Irish hometown) whereas those who went to the US did not.

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The younger sister tells us her story including incredible episodes of seasickness and homesickness. She gets a job as a retail clerk in a department store and begins experiencing the contrast of life in an Irish town to that in a thriving American metropolis. So much happens, and she experiences so much newness, that she feels she needs an extra day to go through the events and happenings, scene by scene, storing them away and getting it out (or into) her system as she dreams each night.

She lives in a boarding house with several other Irish women, but she’s a loner and makes no real friends among the other lodgers or landlady. She dislikes the prejudice with which the other boarders treat Jews, “colored women,” other ethnics, such as Italians, and lower class folks such as one boarder who scrubs floors.

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She has an episode with a female boss who is a lesbian. All this is fine, although at times I started thinking that all her political correctness was a bit overdone and seemed like set pieces. For example, when she helps out at a church-sponsored Christmas banquet for homeless men, I thought the story started taking on the tone of a YA novel. (And maybe it is – it certainly could be.)

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There are little realistic touches such as her and her mother’s amazement (by letter) that Americans leave the heat on all night!

Our heroine falls in love with an Italian man. But tragedy strikes and she has to return home. She feels the pull of Ireland once again and she gets into a position where no matter what she does, she will hurt someone.

A line I liked: “She struck Eilis as looking like a horse-dealer’s wife in Enniscorthy on a fair day.”

A good story, worth 4 stars rounded up, although I don’t think it’s Toibin’s best.

Top photo from brooklynpix.com
Enniscorthy in 1977 from trainsandstuff on flickr.com
Lower photo from https://www.jer-cin.org.il/en/event/1...
Profile Image for Cecily.
1,118 reviews3,975 followers
January 16, 2018


This is a charming, simple story about a sweet, straightforward young woman – until the final section, when it sears the reader’s heart and soars into another realm.

The first part is a delightful picture of small-town Ireland in the 1950s. The middle two parts chart Eilis’ arrival and settling in to life and study in Brooklyn. Not much happens. It’s well done, but I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. Then she is unexpectedly summoned home. The situation and dilemmas arising could be crass, predictable and dull, or overly sentimental, or just implausible. They are none of those things.

The ending was brave and brilliant, and pushed the book from 3.5* to 5*. The most powerful aspect for me was .

I hope Toibin is never tempted to write a sequel.

So Much Unsaid

There is a gradually intensifying theme of important things going unsaid: lips sealed, omissions from letters, replies unread.

It’s no great insight that the longer one waits to reveal something, the harder it becomes, and the more complex the consequences. Toibin’s skill is in making chronic inarticulacy agonisingly convincing: there’s always the nagging hope that if one puts it off, it may somehow not be necessary.

Eilis’ inexperience may look like naivety, but the more we understand of her inner thoughts, the more her intelligence, introspection, and perceptiveness about other people’s motives peek through. She’s not inarticulate in her head, only in real life, though she tries to suppress her own thoughts as well, “The best thing to do… was to put the whole thing out of her mind”.

The gaps in her letters home mean “they would never know her now” and maybe they never had, otherwise they would not have sent her to this strange land where she does not fit.

But it’s not just Eilis: all the main characters hide their true selves and desires (), and even prevent others from doing so: “It was hard to speak since her mother seemed to have prepared in advance every word that she said” and had a way of “speaking that seemed to welcome no reply”.

“Not telling her mother and friends made every day she had spent in America a sort of fantasy.” You can rewrite a fantasy, which makes reticence appealing, but it doesn’t change the truth – or the ramifications.

Appropriately, the plot hinges on someone who DOES speak up, but whether the consequences are good or ill is suitably ambiguous. Toibin has consistently demonstrated the problems of what goes unsaid, but he stops short of recommending honesty at all times, because there is no single answer. We each have to decide for ourselves when to hold back and when to open up. Either way is risky. Inertia, manifested as silence or omission, often seems easier, as Eilis knows so well – yet she does it again and again.

Pulled Two Ways: An Outsider in Two Realms

Eilis moves from her predictable and familiar town where she has spent (and expected to spend) her whole life, to a city where even the staples of bread, butter, tea and milk, are strange, and “everything [is] frenzied and fast”.

She may speak the language, but “She was nobody here… a ghost in this room, in the streets on the way to work, on the shop floor. Nothing meant anything… She… tried to think… of something she was looking forward to, but there was nothing… It was as though she had been locked away.”

Just as she’s becoming at ease with Brooklyn, she finds herself an outsider again, when she gets to know an Italian family, and finally when she goes back to Ireland, changed.

This is the obvious theme, and it’s why I chose the photo of the Anthony Gormley sculpture. But because it’s more obvious, and is part of the reason for all the unsaid things, it somehow felt less important. Or maybe it was secondary because I identify with it too strongly: there are so many axes along which I have been, and still am, neither one thing nor another, even though I’ve never lived more than 150 miles from my birthplace.

However, Eilis learned to fit in in America, and having found that chameleon quality, I am hopeful for her.

Plot



Just another bildungsroman? No, it’s so much more.

UPDATE re Film

Overall, I thought the film was pretty good. It was understated and looked and felt "right" to me. The luminously ethereal Saoirse Ronan is perfect as Eilis, and the screenplay and cinematography included lingering shots of her pensive face, showing something of her inner doubts and struggles about what to say and what to leave out. Julie Walters is excellent as Mrs Kehoe, and dinner at her lodging house is suitably on the knife-edge between fun and awkwardness.

Inevitably, some things were missed out: no brothers (a sensible omission), almost nothing about Rose (Eilis is on the boat within minutes, and without much explanation), and no hint she has ambitions until Fr Flood enrolls her at Brooklyn College. But none of that impairs understanding or changes the nature of the story.

My one gripe is the one I feared: the ending was tidier. Not only did she definitely . However, there was one really good addition near the end, .

Quotes

• “No one who went to America missed home. Instead they were happy there and proud. She wondered if that could be true.”

• “She did not allow herself to conclude that she did not want to go.”

• “She felt she was being singled out for something for which she was not in any way prepared.”

• “The letters told Eilis little; there was hardly anything personal in them and nothing that sounded like anyone’s own voice.”

• “She wanted to allow for the possibility that everyone’s motives were good.”

• “In Bartocci’s she had learned to be brave and decisive with the customers, but once she herself was a customer she knew that she was too hesitant and slow.”

• “Looking like a horse-dealer’s wife in Enniscorthy on a fair day.”

• “In Brooklyn it was not always as easy to guess someone’s character by their job.”

• “She would have to slow him down, but she had no idea how to do so in a way that did not involve being unpleasant.”

• Etiquette of ogling on the beach:
“In Ireland no one looks… It would be bad manners.
In Italy it would be bad manners not to look.”

• “The [bad] news and the visitors had caused excitement, distracted her pleasantly from the tedium of the day.”


Image source (work by Anthony Gormley):
http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-EoNMfeXg4L0...
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,296 reviews120k followers
November 14, 2019
Brooklyn is a wonderful character portrait and captures as well the struggle of an Irish immigrant to the US in the post war world. Eilis Lacy is a twenty-something in a small Irish town, frustrated at the sclerotic nature of her environment. Her life lies ahead of her in a single, entirely predictable line and she feels suffocated. She wants to study, to learn accountancy, or at least bookkeeping, so she can rise a little above her lowly economic situation. Seizing an unexpected opportunity, she sails for America and begins to make a life for herself in Brooklyn.

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Colm Tóibín - from the LA Times

Toibin finds small-townishness, of the good-and-warm, but also the negative-and-intrusive sorts, in both worlds. His portrayal of boarding house life in New York is classic. It is matched by his ability to show the appeal of Eilis’ home town. Ultimately Eilis must decide where her future lies.

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Saoirse Ronan as Eilis - she dazzles in the role

Eilis Lacey is a fully realized character you will be able to relate to, someone you will remember. Her concerns may have been set in a particular time and place (or places as the case may be), but the issues she faces are no less true for people of many eras from all over the worl who take on the huge challenge of immigration. This is not an action-oriented page turner, no shoot-outs or car chases, literal or figurative. Instead it is a beautifully written, patiently paced tale that is well worth the reading.

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal, and FB pages

An article in The Guardian from October 10, 2015 - Colm Tóibín on filming his novel Brooklyn: 'Everyone in my home town wanted to be an extra'

An NPR interview of Toibin by Jacki Lyden

An article from The Telegraph - May 21, 2015 - by Olivia Parker - Colm Tóibín: Writing is always a battle against your own laziness

Saw the film on Tuesday. It is magnificent!
Profile Image for Glenn Sumi.
404 reviews1,536 followers
March 23, 2016
A simple but universal coming-of-age story, beautifully and gracefully told



Usually I read the book before seeing the movie, but in this case I saw the movie first. I screened the lovely film back in August when I wrote a cover story on Brooklyn’s star, Saoirse Ronan, for my paper’s coverage of the Toronto Film Festival. I only now caught up with the novel. I’m so glad I did. It really made me appreciate Nick Hornby’s adaptation.

In 1950s small town Ireland, Eilis Lacey has few prospects in life; there are no available jobs and even fewer available men. So when a priest offers to sponsor her to emigrate to the U.S., she accepts, even though she’s sad to leave her mother and older sister, Rose. Once in Brooklyn, NY, she adjusts to working in a department store and living in a rooming house, but she’s desperately homesick. That eases up when, with the help of that same priest, she takes night school bookkeeping courses; she also meets a charming Italian-American man, Tony. All is going well until she’s called back to Ireland.

Tóibín’s prose is clear and unadorned, befitting the book’s simple, forthright and industrious protagonist. One of my writing teachers told me that showing characters who are good at what they do is a sure way to build sympathy for them, and I loved reading about Eilis’s skill with numbers and facts.

There’s nothing flashy about her; she’s modest, sensible and hard-working, but she’s also got a fine sense of humour. She’s no pushover.

I like that Eilis is studying bookkeeping. She’s concerned about things adding up in both columns. When exciting things start happening in her life, she wants to be left alone to reflect on them. She’s a classic introvert. After she meets Tony, she probably intuitively adds things up in the relationship column (she wishes he were taller); when she’s offered a larger room at the boarding house, she tries to figure out the why and wherefore of the offer, and whose debit and credit columns will be affected.

What’s remarkable is how quietly and yet powerfully Tóibín presents Eilis’s narrative. I loved all the details about the department store – its billing system, the one-day-a-year pantyhose sale that’s spread by word of mouth. One theme that’s not explored in the film is how the store adjusts to the times; when its savvy owner realizes the neighbourhood is changing, it begins catering to African-American customers, and it’s fascinating to see how Eilis reacts. This is the new world, with opportunities for all. There’s also a tiny scene about one of Eilis’s instructors, whose family was killed in the Holocaust.

Eilis’s story made me laugh and cry: her loneliness, her hard work, her spirit of charity, her growing confidence. The book’s final section finds her back in Ireland, and the way she sees her old life – what used to be her entire universe – is profound and moving.

The book’s denouement happens a little quickly. The film’s concluding scenes are much more satisfying emotionally – we need to see certain things resolve. But the spirit of book and film are the same.

The story of journeying from one place to another to build a new life for oneself is universal. Toíbín finds a fresh, unpretentious way to tell it.

Brooklyn is exactly why I love a certain type of literary fiction: to get deep into character, to understand where people come from, not just geographically but psychologically and emotionally.

One final note: there are two references to a Nora Webster in the book. That’s the name of Tóibín’s eponymous 2014 novel. Am I stoked to read it? What, are you a feckin’ eedjit? (Pardon my faux Irish curse.) Of course I am.
Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,113 reviews44.4k followers
February 12, 2017
Some books are worth sticking with.

To call this book a slow starter would be to evoke a drastic understatement. After around a hundred or so pages, I was beginning to wonder if this book was actually going anywhere. There was a completer lack of plot, as the mundane life of an ordinary girl unfolded in all its blandness. However, as the novel progressed it built up momentum, ever so slowly until the point where it became a heart racing crescendo of uncertainty. The true shame of this book, and perhaps its reason for such a mixed reception here on goodreads, is how many readers such initial storytelling would put off and even lose altogether.

So what’s good about this book? Plot wise, it sounds like a tiresome cliché, so I’m not even going to attempt a summary.

Instead I’m going to consider what the novel actually captures. Decisions are always important, but every so often a decision so powerful will come along that either direction you take will completely alter your life hereafter. We’ve all experienced that moment, a moment where if you went down a certain path (as Robert Frost would say- “the road not taken”) our life would be different today. Some moments are just that strong; they don’t come along very often, but when they do they linger for what feels like an eternity.

And this is what the book builds up to in its eloquent simplicity. For Eilis her decision is vast and unpredictable. This becomes such a crucial part of the storytelling. We can’t predict such moments. No matter how bland and ordinary our lives may appear, you can’t predict what may happen in your life. Sometimes something, or someone, comes along that threatens to change the game completely. Your life becomes something else, and your reaction to it may come to define the rest of your days. Eilis becomes torn between two lives, one she has grown to love and one that is undoubtedly her comfort zone. Her coming actions will stay with her forever, as she ponders what could have been.

The novel also chronicles a huge part of modern cultural history. As a historical novelist, Toibin has captured many of the viewpoints of the 1950s along with various social transitions. The world is becoming more modern; thus, there is a shift in attitudes towards race, sex and marriage. The older generation characters are more conservative, and remain resistant to this asserting sense of newness. Some of the younger characters, but not all, are more open and accepting. We see a multitude of opinions and attitudes, ultimately, recognising which ones will become dominant.

So here is a book that has very little in the way of actual plot, but I urge other readers to look beyond that. The story is a mere vehicle, a means for the author to capture these intense moments of confliction and uncertainty. In this sense, it chronicles a large part of what it is to be human.
Profile Image for Steve.
251 reviews875 followers
December 29, 2015
Brooklyn starts out as a nice little slice of life in Ireland in the early 50’s. Then Eilis, the younger of two sisters living at home with their mother, has a whole new life arranged for her in New York. It took rather a stiff upper lip for a young woman to cross the stormy seas and settle in a foreign land where the only person she knew was the priest who arranged the whole thing. Sea sickness gave way to homesickness, but her strength of character prevailed. The story then settled into how she built her new life, complete with a job at a clothing store, night classes to learn bookkeeping, relations with her catty fellow boarders, and ultimately with Tony, his brothers, and the Dodgers. It was a more innocent era (even in the big city). At that point I was wondering if it was possible to be nostalgic for a time and place you’ve never experienced. People were generally nicer; more thoughtful. Then again, I wondered whether an era like that when polite behavior and higher standards were de rigueur would be more likely to come down hard on subtle deviations. Would social acceptance be too narrowly defined? Seemed like something interesting to consider in light of the book’s focus on manners, integrity and the social fabric of the day.

I was happy enough with the manufactured, third-order conflicts. It helped that despite her passive nature, Eilis was likable and observant. (I’d be curious to know if women who read this think Tóibín did a credible job getting inside the head of his young protagonist.)

Then, towards the end, BAM! -- you get genuine, first-order conflict. I won’t spoil it for anyone, but will mention that certain dilemmas were laid out well: old life vs. new, family duty vs. commitments to others, the growing comfort of the here and now vs. the fading memories of pleasures past, and romantic prospects vs. … what (?). There’s a pay-off to reading through to the end. Which way will the wind blow? Will Eilis be blown with it? It was a story simply told and all the more forceful for it.

Update: I’m happy to report that the movie adaptation was a good one. It’s not a substitute for the book, of course, since there is plenty of interior life a film can’t hope to capture. But the screenplay was clever (Nick Hornby is apparently good at these things) and the acting was first-rate (I hope Saoirse Ronan scores an Oscar nomination). Four to four and a half stars plus one upturned thumb speak to a fine book/movie double.
Profile Image for E Sweetman.
189 reviews5 followers
June 1, 2010
Well...it was a quick read...
I expected far more and only in minute passage did I find it.
Mr. Toibin's BROOKLYN felt rushed, a bit glossed over, too formulaic for me to honestly believe the character of Eilis Lacey (and the name bothered me as much as her lack of substance).
There were small moments of brilliance: the terse passages of what was not said, which was the most telling, yet those glimmers were rare.
I could not identify in the least with Eilis, she was so one-dimensional, barely there and characterized as mostly bored when she was present in this book. Her mother and glamorous older sister decided she must go to America, so she does! A priest manages a hard-to-get passage, work status and job but how? and why?? She ends up in a rooming house in Brooklyn with a job as a salesgirl in a department store...great! Life in the rooming house was pleasant but bland, her job was almost non-descript (except for the reader learning how salesgirls made change via pneumatic tubes--that was described in exquisite detail) despite her being launched from a tiny Irish village into the incredible diversity and cultural whirlwind of life in New York City! Eilis just waltzes in an smiles pleasantly at times when Mr. Toibin wants us to know what she's doing. Hardships? Well, there's loneliness--we're told of a day she spent with a crooked smile because she's lonely! so the omnipotent priest puts her in night school to fill her time and she manages to excell!
Halfway into this I realized she's a Mary Sue! That's great for Mr. Toibin but rest assured there is very little emotion or connection on the reader's part for this girl. The author just points and shoots her to the next scenario which she scurries through successfully--there was no way I could identify with this character or care much for her trials (few) or triumphs (many).
The secondary characters also needed more time, more development to come to life for me. They were barely two dimensional. Occasionally, again, that glimmer, but overall, it was just words telling me about these people, the life they were marching through.
Most disappointing to me, really lacking in insight and in truism was the ending. I don't want to spoil this more than I already have, but there was no feeling of..."ahhhhh" when it was done. The ending, while putting on the face of happiness rang hollow. It makes me wonder if Mr. Toibin schemed to pull a great private joke over all of us who really want to gush about it and hug it to our heaving bosoms ala "Bridges of Madison County" (gag-gag).
The most interesting thing about this book was looking over the accolades from those who reviewed it. I couldn't wait to relish every word when phrases like, "A Triumph!", "a moving, deeply satisfying read", and "exquisitely detailed fiction". I was surprised when I finished it and reviewed the praises, wondering if I had read the same novel? If I had enough time and had a tick more crazy in me (give me maybe 10 more years), I promise you I would send a hand-written note to each reviewer suggesting they either didn't read the book or jumped on the love-train while pretending to have read it. I seriously think I will write to a certain Ms. Zoe Heller (author of THE BELIEVERS) to ask her how on earth she can possibly make the unfounded claim that Mr. Toibin "writes about women more convincingly...than any other living, male novelist"? I beg to disagree.
Profile Image for Carol.
1,370 reviews2,138 followers
March 29, 2016
2.5 Stars I'm sorry to say BROOKLYN was a disappointing read for me.

It was slow going throughout most of the story with a kind of monotone dialogue, and while I did find Eilis's initial trip from Ireland to America kind of fun and interesting, her life while in America was day-after-day of repetitive boredom for the reader. (at least for me)

As for Eilis herself, at first I thought she showed strength of character and heart, but by the end of the story, well.....I admit to hoping for her demise! I liked Tony, but felt sorry for him in the end as well as for Jim and Rose. As for the rest of the characters......GEESH! The best part of the novel for me were the baseball discussions while the Brooklyn Dodgers played at Ebbets Field.

Will probably still see the movie and hope for the best.

Update: March 28, 2016 Thought the movie was much better than the book, but probably not one I would rent again.......too many books to read.

36 reviews
January 17, 2011
Although I vacilated between sympathizing with the main character and wondering at her thought processes, in the end, I was disappointed in her behavior, choices and the ending of this book.
Profile Image for Brian.
689 reviews333 followers
May 28, 2018
"Ordinary things, that she would never know, that would not matter to her now."

“Brooklyn” is a beautiful, simple book. It reminds me of the writing of Anton Chekov, just life happening. And in the hands of a skilled writer, that is enough to keep you reading. The novel moves quickly, although it covers a span of two years it is only 262 pages. Things happen, big things, without any fanfare, as they do for all of us, every day in real life.
The novel’s protagonist, Ellis Lacey, is so fully rendered that you almost immediately sense that you know her (probably you just recognize a bit of yourself) within the first few pages of the text. The way Mr. Toibin puts us in her head moves the novel along. When Ellis goes on her first date with an Italian named Tony that she recently met at a dance I was stunned by the great writing. It was astounding, and romantic. Period!
The novel really does “sneak up on you” as one critic said, and you will find yourself reading and reading and immersing yourself in this world and you probably will not even be able to explain why. For the last 40 pages, I could/ would not put the novel down. And the ending is true, quick, honest, and brutal all in one. When I look at major moments in my own life they just happened, and then they were done. The consequences long outweigh the action and this novel captures that truth of our humanity perfectly.
Profile Image for Dem.
1,186 reviews1,098 followers
March 20, 2019
A lovely Bank Holiday read for St Patrick's weekend and a book where the past comes to life through fiction and yet for many Irish Immigrants this story paints a vivid picture of life in small towns in rural Ireland in the 50s and 60s, the ties to family and the pull of what is familiar and the duty we feel towards family.

I think this book means a lot to me on a personal level as it is very silimiar to my aunt's story and therefore as real as it gets for an immigrant's account and my aunt who is now in her late Eighties reminisces about her experoemces with such honestly and clarity and passion that I actually feel this book could have been written about her. She did see the movie Brooklyn and was amazed at how close this story compares with her own experiences as obviously she emeigrated to America and returned to Ireland after a few years.

Brooklyn tells the story of a young woman in 1950s who makes the journey across the ocean from Ireland to America as many many Irish women have done in the past in the attempt to make a better life for herself. Eilis Lacey has come of age in a small town in Ireland and when the offer to emmigrate to America is offered to her she takes the change to see what life on the other side of the world has to offer.

I am so glad I chose this one as a re-read for St. Patrick's weekend, loved the characterisation and the elegance of the story will stay with me. Colm Tobin's writing is vivid and elegant and captures the atmosphere of the time very well without being twee.

A book that means a lot to me and I really enjoyed the movie as well.
Profile Image for Kalliope.
691 reviews22 followers
January 8, 2018




When I finished this novel I felt as if I had just been uprooted. Something was tearing inside me.

No, don’t think it was because the novel mesmerized me. It was something else. Strange.

The first half of the novel was an amiable read, calm. Toibin’s clear and relaxed writing and bittersweet story opened horizons.

The story of a young woman, in the nineteen fifties, who has no other prospect in her small town in Ireland but to find, almost desperately, a suitable husband, emigrates alone, to the New World. There is little anguish in comparison to other immigrant stories, since she has an entry and a post. Miraculous? – May be; the priest and may be his god had arranged it. The theme of exile had a decaffeinated strength.

For me the the novel offered also personal parallels, on several planes. But just when I was beginning to feel that in spite of the pleasant reading walk, it seemed to be leading nowhere, Bang!, the walk came to a chasm.

As the plot takes a turn, the fragility of uprooting is exposed and explored. The novel extends into a new dimension and acquires more depth. And yet, to me it was not believable. Not because of the story but because the main character for me failed to stand up. Circumstances were leading her hopelessly, and her wimpy will seemed entirely unable to bring things out into the open, to others and to herself, and procrastination reigned supreme. For me she ceased to be an interesting personality. I just felt irritation. Every time a new sentence in which in the first half the character declared her intentions and was followed by a second half which started with ‘but’, I just cringed. She was not believable.

What could have been a fascinating analysis of the trauma brought by emigration, in which uprooting means leaving the subject exposed to a degree that makes it difficult to predict whether those exposed roots will be able to provide a base again, was for me left unresolved.

When I finished the novel, then, I felt uprooted. I was so disconcerted, so at odds with the book, so unable to let it be as it was when I finished it, that I felt unable to pick up another read for a while.

When we read we grow these weird mental roots inside the book; like tentacles they weave through the words, the lines, the sentences. These reading roots twist themselves around the characters, the imagined settings, and the rhythm of the text. By the time we turn the last page, a vivid form must have emerged.

For me this was not to be this time. The book did not resolve because it did not dwell enough. And I was left deracinated.
Profile Image for Florence (Lefty) MacIntosh.
167 reviews508 followers
March 12, 2014
Quick and easy read. A coming of age story about an Irish working-class girl who immigrates all alone to Brooklyn. Simple sums it up. The protagonist, the prose, the setting, the story, right down to the 50’s era, a simpler time. Not to be confused with easy, never that. Thought Colm’s depiction of Eilis Lacey’s feelings of alienation "the rest of her life would be a struggle with the unfamiliar" & battle with depression "all of the colour had been washed out of her world" well done.
As for Eilis…Reserved, painfully passive and singularly focused on doing what’s expected of her. While I admired her and sympathized with her plight, the combination of aloofness & meekness did not make for a happy mix, tough to warm up to.

Not till over halfway in did this story grab me but once it did it held on. With conflict & the complications of life kicking in "The answer was that there was no answer, that nothing she could do would be right. And she saw all three of them as figures whom she could only damage, as innocent people surrounded by light and clarity, and circling around them was herself, dark, uncertain." and Eilis maturing into someone more interesting. I’m glad I saw it through, had fun with her moral struggle and flash of rebellion. As for the book’s conclusion? Poignant and perfect!
So 3 1/2 stars rounded down to 3 - less a reflection of the novel’s merits, more on my inability to empathize with the main character.

Cons: The writing is really simplistic. Not faulting him, an appropriate choice for the voice of an unsophisticated young girl. Maybe he pulled it off to well...
Profile Image for Diane.
1,080 reviews2,655 followers
August 19, 2016
Oh, what a lovely novel this is. It is the story of Eilis, a young woman from small-town Ireland who moves to America in the 1950s and finds herself all alone in the strange city of Brooklyn.

If you have seen the movie version, a beautiful film starring Saoirse Ronan, you know the basic outline of the plot: Eilis rents a room in Brooklyn and finds a job in a shop. She becomes so homesick that she makes herself ill. She starts taking night classes, and later meets a nice boy at a dance. Eventually, she has a difficult choice to make: stay in America or return to Ireland?

But this is one of those novels in which there is greater feeling and emotion than the simple story would imply, because we are following the heart and mind of an independent being. Eilis is a character who is fully formed — we know her thoughts and desires, and we silently urge her on her journey.

I was excited to read this book when I saw a quote from the author, saying he was inspired by Jane Austen and her "method of examining a single psychology, using an introspective, sensitive heroine, some comic characters and some romance." I love all things Jane Austen, and was eager to see how Mr. Tóibín would apply that method. The result is charming and heartfelt, loving and bittersweet. At times I was moved to tears for Eilis, and at others, so anxious for her that I had to remind myself it was just a novel, just a novel.

But is it just a novel? America is a country of immigrants, with millions of stories, and this is one of them. It's a beautiful story, and one I will cherish.

Favorite Quotes
"Until now, Eilis had always presumed that she would live in the town all her life, as her mother had done, knowing everyone, having the same friends and neighbours, the same routines in the same streets. She had expected that she would find a job in the town, and then marry someone and give up the job and have children. Now, she felt that she was being singled out for something for which she was not in any way prepared."

[on her desperate homesickness]
"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."

[on a harsh winter in Brooklyn]
"It made her almost smile at the idea that no one in Ireland knew that America was the coldest place on earth and its people on a cold morning like this the most deeply miserable."
Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews3,053 followers
March 7, 2016
Zoe Heller said Brooklyn was the most compelling and moving portrait of a young woman she has read in a long time and though I’d give that accolade to the narrator of A Girl is a Half Formed Thing there is much that’s moving and compelling in this novel. In fact it’s hard to fault except perhaps to say that it’s composed on a small canvas and so lacks the breadth of a truly thrilling and first rate novel. Basically it’s a concise and artful study of the sensibility of a young girl who suddenly finds herself uprooted - a young Irish girl, Eilis who, faced with a lack of opportunities at home, is encouraged by her sister to emigrate alone to Brooklyn. The prose is simple and lucid – never straying into linguistic territory the protagonist herself would be incapable of formulating. Eilis herself is both easily pleased and fickle. She appears to suffer from a lack of imagination which means ultimately she will always choose the pragmatic option. And this becomes a novel about how easily we are ensnared by fate, or rather, how casually we can make fateful decisions and are then ensnared by one narrative at the expense of the alternatives.
I tend to favour writers who are capable of formulating sentences beyond my own capabilities, who can enliven the world with feats of linguistic artistry and there is no such writing in Brooklyn for which I’m going to be a bit stingy with my stars. Immensely charming though it is Brooklyn ultimately is more of a paddle than a swim.
Profile Image for David.
865 reviews1,305 followers
August 5, 2009
OK, Man Booker award people, listen up! If this book doesn't win this year, you are dead to me, you hear?

I've said it elsewhere on this site, but it bears repeating. Colm Toibin is a genius. This is a man who has, on various occasions brought me inside the heads of:

• a gay man in Ireland suffering from AIDS and the women in his family ("The Blackwater Lightship")
• a compromised Argentine English teacher exploring his sexuality in the time of the fall of the military junta (“The Story of the night”)
• Henry James in his middle years (“The Master”)
• an IRA gunman turned art thief (“Mothers and Sons”)
• an Irish high court judge (“The Heather Blazing”)
• and, most recently, Eilis Lacey, the stunningly ordinary, but completely unforgettable, heroine of “Brooklyn”, his latest novel.


Where does Toibin’s particular genius lie? Well, there’s the writing, of course. Which is remarkable for being so completely unremarkable. If that seems like a backhanded compliment, let me assure you that it is meant as quite the reverse. I think it takes a phenomenal talent (and a certain gutsy confidence in one’s own talent, which the author most definitely has, and just as definitely has earned) to write as unobtrusively as Toibin does. Nothing in his style draws attention to himself as author. Instead, time after time, he finds the right voice, so that the writing flows in a completely natural way, without a word in the wrong place.

How does he do this? The answer brings us close to the scary heart of his genius, I think. It’s because Toibin lets his characters take over in a way that few other authors manage to do. He becomes them, he channels them. To say they are “fully realized”, “deftly drawn”, that they “come to life on the page” – whatever reviewer’s cliché comes to mind – doesn’t even begin to do him justice. Empathy is surely one of the qualities we expect from any great novelist, and Toibin does empathy like no other modern writer I know. I find his ability to inhabit his characters both fascinating and scary. It scares me because it so exceeds my own powers of imagination. No matter what, or when, I write, I can never get away from being me, a very particular individual, with my own very specific 52-year old history. It’s probably why I have never understood the fascination of online role-playing games, or the ability of others to fabricate alternate online personae – no matter the forum, with me it’s pretty much WYSIWYG all the way.

But it’s one of the reasons I prefer fiction to non-fiction – if only vicariously, I find that truly good fiction has the power to take me out of myself, and to stretch my capacity for empathy, even if it’s only briefly. In his novels, Colm Toibin does this over and over again. I imagine it as being a wholly draining experience for him. But as a reader, my admiration for him is boundless.

I’d like to close this review by offering my congratulations on his upcoming receipt of this year’s Booker prize*. Because if there is any justice at all in this world, this is a man who has it coming.

Read this book. Read all of his books. And see if you don’t agree with me.

*: “Brooklyn” has been ‘long-listed’, I am happy to report.
Profile Image for Lucy Canessa.
7 reviews2 followers
December 18, 2009
I was hugely dissapointed in this book. Amazon.com reviewer "Flibertigibbit" says it best, so I am just going to quote her here:

Brooklyn is flat and dull. This, incidentally, has little to do with Toibin's famously economical prose style - which I love. The principal problem is with characterisation. The characters are cardboard cut-out, lacking in complexity, unrealised and utterly unconvincing. The central character is so passive that it is scarcely believable and she simply can not sustain my interest. Toibin indulges in long descriptive passages telling us about his protagonist's state of mind, her intentions and reasons and her reflections on events. Very rarely however is any of this conveyed in conversation between the characters. There are very few passages of dialogue - certainly any meaningful dialogue. This, for me, is a telling manifestation of the characterisation problem. Toibin can not give these characters a voice - because he does not really believe in them. You combine this with a very dull chronology of events that is the framework for the story and really, you have nothing.

I completely disagree with the reviewers in the British media and the New York Times who are falling over themselves to find the positives in this novel. One reviewer suggests that the novel is in some way deceptively simple and subversive. So I suppose if you disagree with them it's just because you were not sufficiently alert or intelligent to see the subversion. Nonsense. They are being hugely dishonest about all this - why, I do not know. Toibin's editors and publishers are advising him badly and must only be interested in promoting him as a literary star - thereby promoting themselves.
Profile Image for Carol.
325 reviews863 followers
August 10, 2016
This was a book club pick, so not something I would have selected myself, and I endeavor to fail on the side of generosity when it comes to authors whose works I read without any personal investment.

That said, I don't get the enthusiasm some have for this novel. I kept expecting it to turn into more - more depth, more conflict, more despair or happiness or excitement or loneliness, or struggle. It didn't. It glanced at racial issues in the 1950's for a few pages, leading me to think we might get somewhere meaty and interesting. Then the topic was never addressed again. It glanced at the possibility of same-gender harassment by a boss, when no one else was in the facility, leading me to anticipate additional similar events or tension or conflict. No. Nothing. It glanced at the tension between Irish and Italians in Brooklyn in the 1950s, but -- again, nothing. In the interest of full disclosure, my Irish grandmother married my Italian grandfather, and they raised several kids in Brooklyn, so I've got some skin in this game. Toibin doesn't get close to explaining to the reader the views each group had of the other at that time.

In the end, we spend 260 pages with a character who is largely flat - never gloriously happy, drifting into a relationship with a man who borders on too perfect, ever-patient, just. not. real. Our protagonist doesn't appear to have learned anything throughout the novel other than how to cross the Atlantic well, and how to apply make-up. And then it ends. As if a timer went off. Nothing's resolved. I enjoyed reading Brooklyn, in terms of the easiness of Toibin's prose style. But his 1950's Brooklyn isn't real to me. I am amazed someone thought there was enough here to turn into a movie; then again I understand that the movie ends differently. Not surprising, really.

My 3 stars probably should be 2 stars, but Brooklyn is an easy read and deserves credit for that. So 1 extra star is for whatever magic Brooklyn has, to which I am immune.
Profile Image for Nataliya Yaneva.
165 reviews325 followers
May 1, 2020
„Бруклин“ е меланхолична живо(то)пис, изрисувана с фина четка и пастелни тонове. „Бруклин“ е и история за разклоненията по пътя – непредвидените, защото животът на всекиго е осеян с тях. И защото никога не знаеш кога точно ще свърши пътят.

Кротост лъха от този роман, спокойствие, приемане на обратите на живота. Не примирение, просто осъзнаване. Да, има я стихийната носталгия по дома в един момент, има ги колебанията, но и онази сдържана устойчивост на характера, която ти шепне да продължиш и ще видиш какво ще стане един ден. Харесва ми, когато автор мъж използва женски персонаж за протагонист и успява да изгради достоверен образ, без да се подхлъзва в клишета. Ейлиш си носеше нежността и несигурността на всяка жена, с отсенките на твърдост и неотстъпчивост. Харесва ми и когато има развитие, израстване на персонажа – все пак никой не тръгва нанякъде научен и напълно сигурен какво иска от живота. Когато това се случва, значи нещо в романа куца.

Колъм Тойбин успява да създаде умел контраст между установените консервативни навици на малкото ирландско градче, от което идва Ейлиш и където да си собственик на местната кръчмица е наистина перспективно занятие, и огромния, шумен, бъкан с хора и чудатости Ню Йорк. Там може да си всеки. Никой не те познава и ти не познаваш никого. За разлика от у дома. У дома всеки знае какво ще е бъдещето ти, преди още ти да си го решил твърдо. Проклятието на малките местенца – когато хората нямат достатъчно интересни преживявания в собственото си битие, започват да си тикат носовете в тези на другите. Но пък у дома остана спалнята, в която се чувстваш така уютно, и сигурността на познатото, и хората, твоите хора. Да, с хората е винаги най-трудно… Но пък и не искаш това да бъде животът ти завинаги. Искаш да постигнеш нещо повече – да имаш цел, да се чувстваш полезна, да правиш нещо, не отсега да очакваш тръпнеща как само ще си съпруга, майка, приятелка на други съпруги – все някаква притурка към нещо, а не просто ти. И все пак, дали този нов странен свят, където си като присадена, е за теб? Завинаги ли ще си останеш леко линеещото цвете, което няма да усети родната земя, а ще вирее върху чуждата пръст? Ами ако…

През целия прочит Ейлиш ме наблюдаваше със сериозните тюркоазени очи на Сърша Ронан, просто защото няма как да я виждаш другояче, след като тя вече се е настанила в ума ти. Може и да си поизмислям, но тези очи казват много. Казват, че е трудно да бъдеш сам сред чужди. Че понякога е по-трудно да бъдеш сам сред свои. Най-вече казват, че когато са готови, те сами ще вземат решение какво да направят. Ще претеглят новото и старото, вкорененото и спечеленото и ще поемат по своето разклонение.
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,769 followers
November 14, 2015
Thinking again about this lovely book, nearly seven years after I first read it, how it has stayed with me, how Tóibín has moved and influenced me as a reader and a writer.

Original Review, posted June 7, 2009


This gentle, quietly resonant novel showed me a new side of Colm Tóibín's writing. At first blush it seems a simple coming-of-age story of a young Irish immigrant alone in New York. But Tóibín, though he writes with affection, keeps enough distance from his characters to allow his reader to form opinions about the choices these characters make and the motivations behind their actions.

He shows, rather than tells, the bewilderment and liberation that are part of a willing immigrant's experience; how the absence of the familiar can lead one to behave in bold or reckless or shameful ways. He also captures perfectly the returned immigrant's experience—the reverse culture shock that occurs when returning to one's homeland. The immigrant, the sojourner, has changed, yet everything and everyone at home remains as it was. Tóibín reveals this sense of dislocation, how it feels to be of both worlds yet not belonging fully to either. Tóibín allows Eilis, his young immigrant, to experience her life without clouding her actions in pop-psychology self-awareness. This is a gracious, sweet and subtle story from a master of nuance and heart.
Profile Image for Lewis Weinstein.
Author 9 books496 followers
April 17, 2016
Many people loved this book, but it made me angry. A young Irish girl allows life to happen to her, never taking initiative. She makes a series of horrible decisions (maybe non-decisions is a better way to describe them) which cause pain to those who care for her or lie like unexploded bombs still waiting to be discovered when the story abruptly ends. She repeatedly displays a lack of awareness or concern for the feelings of others as she floats along her unfocused path. Toibin writes beautifully, but for me the story was frustrating and depressing. Poor Tony has a rough time ahead of him.
Profile Image for Anne .
183 reviews261 followers
February 9, 2017
3.5/5 stars

▶ Well, you're about to enter the land of the free and the brave
▶ Wear your coat over your arm and look as though you know where you're going
▶ Don't look too innocent
▶ Try not to look so frightened
▶ The only thing they can stop you for is if they think you have TB, so don't cough whatever you do
▶ Brooklyn changes every day
▶ New people arrive and they could be Jewish or Irish or Polish or even coloured.


Set in the 1950's, in a time after the second world war, this relates the story of Eilis Lacey, a young Irish woman, who with the help of her older sister and a priest gets an opportunity to leave her small Irish town to seek a better life in America. In Brooklyn, New York, Eilis begins her new life as a resident in a boardinghouse owned by Mrs Kehoe. During the day she works at a department store, and at night, she attends night classes where she studies bookkeeping. It's only a matter of time before homesickness sets in, leaving Eilis feeling sad and depressed. During an Irish dance, Eilis meets Tony, an Italian plumber (don't roll your eyes, it's an honorable job.) and they fall in love. She falls in love with him. He falls in love with her.
I don't know. I'm still trying to figure that part out. I'll explain later on.

MY THOUGHTS
The writing: The narrative style uses the third person narrative to relate the story. And you all know, I'm a bit iffy about third person narratives. The writing itself, to be honest, was just serviceable. No grandiosity to it, it wasn't resplendent neither was it awe-inspiring. It was Juuuuust serviceable. It would be paramount to note that this story isn't bubbly, and while the story is centered on romance more than anything else, the tone of the book is really calm. So calm it bordered on gloomy.

I felt like the story was very disjointed. The romance was a bit speedy, don't get me wrong though, I did like it. It was sweet. But, the thing is, I watched and loved the movie adaptation SO FREAKING MUCH-and it's not just because of Saoirse Ronan(though I will watch anything she stars in). The interpretation of the book, and portrayal of the story was banshee-screaming-ear-splittingly awesome. I loved how the characters were portrayed, especially the character of Tony. So you see, I had badass expectations because of the movie, so regardless of the disjointedness of the story and serviceable writing, I had a portrait of Tony-and the other characters-to look forward to. And it carried me through the story.

THE ROMANCE


Like I said, it was sweet. But there was a great misbalance, or at least that's how It felt to me. So to describe Tony's character, the words that come to mind are: boyish, playful, free-spirited, flower child, sweet, cute, and did I say boyish and cute? Well put them both together and you have boyishly cute. What he lacked physically, he compensated greatly for behaviorally. And what about Eilis? Well...to be honest the only word that comes to mind is cold fish. I swear, her character was so hard for me to decipher. IS still hard for me to decipher. I think she wasn't an exerting enough character, I only liked her when she was with Tony. Never as an individual. And that is so wrong.
There were so many times when I couldn't even feel her love for Tony at all. It's just like they were in love with each other at different times, and hardly ever at the same time. Hence my indecisiveness about who fell in love with who. But Tony was the one doing most of the loving, in my opinion.

MY TONY.

THE REAL PLOT IN 7-or more or less-LINES :D
It's not all about Tony and Eilis. The truth is there are two guys involved in this story: Two guys, two countries, one girl, one choice. The truth is this story isn't just about romance: It's about finding home, discovering yourself and knowing where the little pieces that make you fit into the messed up puzzle that is life, it's about choices and the consequences of those choices, it's about being human. It's simply about humanity.


Sooo about 74% gone into the book, something happens. Something that changed how I looked at Tony a little bit. I won't say what it is, but I'll tell you it has do with...bodily functions. And it left me feeling like Tony wasn't really as selfless and considerate as I thought he was. Maybe it's just the way I read it, maybe I read too much into it, maybe other people won't find a problem with that particular part. But I did.
I AUTOMATICALLY WENT FROM THIS:
#SWOON

TO THIS

Tony broke my soul. And I just couldn't look at him the same way again. I was mad, I was crushed. Let's leave it at that.


THE OTHER CHARACTERS
There are secondary characters who, to me, proved very important in this story. The first two are:
☑ The priest who helped who continuously helps Eilis.
☑ Mrs Kehoe (Eilis's landlady)
These two characters would argue the saying that "All faith in humanity is lost". Their great display of kindness and love is so uplifting and inspiring, it can only remind you of a truth, though shadowed, is still true-humans have a great and tremendous capacity to love. Sometimes it's hard to see it, yes, but it's there. We are not unrecoverable, neither are we hopeless. That's why the characters above were the ones to whom I was greatly endeared to. I love everything they stand for, everything they represent, and they added significantly to the little satisfaction I got from this book.

OTHER SECONDARY CHARACTERS (BOARDERS LIVING IN THE BOARDINGHOUSE )
Trust me, these characters' stupidity and idiocy were detrimental to the development of the story. So we must applaud them. To being moronic!

SEE EVEN THE PEOPLE AT HOGWARTS ARE PLEASED

☑ Sheila and McAdam
These girls made me want to hurl. Whenever they opened their mouths, the only things that crossed my mind were


AND AGAIN

☑ Patty and Diana:


(BLANK SPACE)

☑ Miss Kelly(Eilis's devious former employer in Ireland)

DO I REGRET READING THIS?

SHOULD YOU READ IT? YES. FORM YOUR OWN OPINION, EXPERIENCE THE BEAUTIFUL AND ONEROUS. BUT DON'T YOU DARE STEAL MY TONY. DONNEVEN.
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,738 reviews1,469 followers
February 23, 2018
This is a book about Eilis Lacey, a young woman who, searching for better job opportunities, moves from Enniscorthy, Ireland, not far from Dublin, to Brooklyn in NYC. It is the 1950s. The move has been arranged by Eilis’ elder sister by introducing her to a Catholic priest visiting from Brooklyn. Eilis is a hard worker and she has taken classes in bookkeeping. Father Flood, the visiting priest, speaks of the excellent job opportunities that were to be found in the States. He sponsors her. She travels alone on a ship in third class and alone she arrives in the US. I am stressing the word “alone”, because that is how she is feeling, utterly alone. There is not a soul to help her if something should go wrong. She has no relatives waiting for her in the States. All feels foreign--from the food, to the clothing, to the mannerisms of the people.

Eilis is doing what all those around her say is best. One senses her insecurity, her meekness, her inability to do anything other than what is asked of her. She is carried along in life by what others do or have decided rather than her own decisions. She reacts rather than taking the initiative. She is sweet, naïve and kind. but totally unable to say no or oppose that suggested to her.

We follow what happens in America. At first, she is homesick, but she works hard and diligently continues to study bookkeeping. She adjusts. She begins to make something of her new life. She meets people. She meets Tony Fiorello, a young Italian plumber. An attraction grows. Then, something happens; she must return home to Ireland. Will she stay permanently in Ireland or will she return again to the US? That is the question.

This is a story about immigration, about whom Eilis will choose to marry and a coming-of-age story. The reader watches to see if / how Eilis matures. The extent to which you enjoy this book and which of the three themes you see as most important will depend upon your own age, personality and experiences.

How an immigrant views a new land is tied closely to their personality and the specific circumstances lying behind their immigration. One cannot generalize. I have lived in different countries, but I felt that to judge the book fairly, I had to see Eilis’ world through her eyes, not my own. She and I have very different personalities. The reasons and circumstance behind our respective moves differ too. With this in mind, it was important for me to see how well the author drew Eilis’ character. Would the author draw Eilis with such vivid detail that I would be able to see through her eyes rather than my own? Yes, he does. Even if I do not like Eilis’ meek character, her lack of gumption and her total inability to think for herself, the choices she ends up making feel like the choices such a person would make. It is for this reason I like the book. The author has drawn a realistic story. What each character does makes sense.

I like the story because of the depth with which the characters are drawn, not only Eilis but also the subsidiary characters too. What each one does and says fits their personality. The difference between Eilis’ two suitors made me smile. Each one came to have their own identity.

However, that I found Elise to be so meek didn’t exactly improve the book for me. In fact, this got me quite annoyed. Another thing that irked me, was the extent to which those in her family avoided all that even hinted of confrontation. Consistently, they chose to skirt around problems rather than openly talking and resolving them. Letters sent had little content. Lying and silence were often resorted to. Also, the love theme, who Eilis should marry, bored me.

The audiobook is wonderfully narrated by Niamh Cusak. She captures Irish, British, Italian and American accents well. She made each of the different characters sound just as they should. Eilis, the matron and girls at the boardinghouse in Brooklyn, the bitchy shopkeeper at Eilis’ last Irish employment, Eilis’ mother, her two suitors and her Irish friends are each intoned wonderfully. The author’s depiction of these characters is enhanced by the narration.

My reaction to the book is mixed. Whether you should read the book depends on what you personally are looking for. Are the themes mentioned interesting to you? Is a submissive, meek central character going to annoy you?
Profile Image for PattyMacDotComma.
1,435 reviews813 followers
November 3, 2022
4★
“She could not bear to look at her two fellow lodgers, afraid that she would see something of her own gawking unease in their faces, her own sense of being unable to look as though she were enjoying herself.”


Eilis is boarding in a house in Brooklyn with several other young women who have taken her to a local dance. Two of them seem to know how to dress, how to behave, and how to flirt, and on top of that, they have arrived with two young men.

Eilis, on the other hand, is with two girls who are as awkward as she feels. She’s a young Irish migrant whose family has sent her to New York to join the many Irish already there who are seeking better lives. Her older sister Rose has a good job at home, and her two older brothers have left home and work in the cities.

“Until now, Eilis had always presumed that she would live in the town all her life, as her mother had done, knowing everyone, having the same friends and neighbours, the same routines in the same streets.”

She didn’t really have any ambitions for herself, but Rose and their mother and a Catholic priest, Father Flood, have made all the arrangements. Before she knows it, she finds herself sea-sick on a ship, sailing to meet the priest and the Irish community he serves. She’s excited and nervous and really at the mercy of everyone she meets.

She is ripe for advice, which the other boarders and Mrs. Kehoe are happy to give. Mrs. Kehoe is the widow who owns the boarding house and runs it a bit like a home for wayward girls. There are strict rules of behaviour and dress codes.

Miss Bartocci is her boss at Bartocci & Company, a department store, and spells out the company policy.

‘Brooklyn changes every day,’ Miss Bartocci said as Father Flood nodded. ‘New people arrive and they could be Jewish or Irish or Polish or even coloured. Our old customers are moving out to Long Island and we can’t follow them, so we need new customers every week. We treat everyone the same. We welcome every single person who comes into this store. They all have money to spend. We keep our prices low and our manners high. If people like it here, they’ll come back. You treat the customer like a new friend. Is that a deal?’ Eilis nodded. ‘You give them a big Irish smile.’

She is determined to succeed. She has always wanted to live up to her big sister, Rose, who knows how to use makeup and what to wear. Rose plays golf with friends, and seems to be set to have a career at the company she works for.

This is the early 1950s, so there are a lot of references to what people look like and where they come from. She acquires a boyfriend, Tony, an Italian whom her friends seem to approve of, but they do talk about “the Italians” as if they are a uniform group. Of course they pigeon-hole everybody.

Tony takes her to baseball and the beach at Coney Island, and she learns how to wear a swimming suit without shame and says the ocean is warmer than in Ireland. She is becoming content with Tony and thinks less often of home, when she suddenly receives news from Ireland that will test her allegiances.

I don’t know how the author got into the head of a very young Irish woman – a girl, really – and portrayed her feelings so well, but it never occurred to me this wasn’t her story. The characters are described in the third person but seen through her eyes.

I found the first part slow, as she left home and was finding her feet. But when she settled and became more assertive, she also became more interesting. Then, when she was pulled two ways, I had no idea what she was going to do.

All in all, I enjoyed it and can see why it made the 2009 Booker Prize longlist, among other awards.
Profile Image for Richard (on hiatus).
160 reviews182 followers
July 2, 2018
I greatly enjoyed Brooklyn, which was a surprise!
I had picked up the impression, from somewhere, that a Colm Tóibín novel would be a dry, high concept, densely written affair. A book to be in the 'right' mood for.
This was not the case.
Brooklyn is a slim, elegantly written novel. The story is simple and character driven. Much of the plot concerns mundane and unsensational events but manages to be quietly gripping.
Eilis Lacey a young woman unable to find work in Ireland, travels to the United States to find employment. Much happens to her in her new world and she naively falls into situations where painful decisions have to be made.
Eilis is a fully imagined character of the early 1950's and we see and feel her experiences of family, relationships, sex, guilt and loyalty through the moral prism of that time.
Brooklyn is my introduction to Colm Tóibín and I certainly look forward to reading more.
Profile Image for Sandra.
224 reviews50 followers
October 8, 2018
Brooklyn
This is my first Colm Toibin. I thought it would be a challenging read but I was wrong.... I sank right into the story from the start and it was beautifully written. It starts with Eilis growing up in 1950’s Ireland with her older sister, Rose. Her brothers had already moved to England to find employment.
The lack of prospects in small town Ireland is portrayed well.
When the family has a visit from an Irish American priest, things are quickly set in motion, paperwork, employment, accommodation are all arranged and Eilis is on her way to New York !
I loved the feel of New York in the 50’s through Eilis’ eyes, dances, baseball, trips to Coney Island and Manhattan.
Then her life changes, decisions have to be made, you can really feel and understand the constraints of the period, through the expectations of her mother, the priest, even her landlady in Brooklyn....... what will Eilis do?
A very enjoyable read.
Profile Image for Marc.
3,071 reviews1,093 followers
December 24, 2022
You wouldn't expect stories like this still to be written in the 21st century, especially not by such a literary celebrity as Colm Toibin. This novel is simple and classic in every way: written from a third narrator's point of view, concentrated around 1 protagonist (Eilis Lacey), nicely following the chronology, and zooming in on the well-known theme of the migration of the Irish to America. Classic, indeed, and beautiful, without further ado, almost the ideal film script (in the meantime I saw that a film has actually been made of it). Toibin clearly shows his craftsmanship here.

Thematically, it is clear that the very popular theme of identity is central to this novel: is Eilis still Irish or already American, and what is that American identity, given that there are so many different communities with their own face. Occasionally themes like race and gender are touched upon, but seemingly light-hearted. Toibin doesn't impose anything, but lets the story take its own course, up to and including the quite surprising ending. And if you are nevertheless looking for a moral: one can postpone important decisions, or leave essential messages unspoken for a while, but life will catch up with you, inexorably. In a way Toibin has produced a very soft (more introspective) version of the harsh 19th century naturalist novels.
Profile Image for M.  Malmierca.
323 reviews281 followers
August 7, 2021
Brooklin (2009), del magnifico escritor Colm Toibin (1955-) es un retrato costumbrista de la vida de los inmigrantes irlandeses en el Nueva York de la mitad del siglo XX. El autor nos muestra este mundo a través de la figura de una joven irlandesa que emigra a los Estados Unidos en busca de una vida mejor.

El argumento no es muy complejo, su vida diaria, la búsqueda de trabajo, sus relaciones amorosas y con las personas que la rodean..., pero, debido a un ritmo agradablemente cadencioso y a una prosa atenta y minuciosa, Coibin consigue mantenernos enormemente interesados en la historia.

A través de la rutina diaria de la protagonista, asistimos a una magistral recreación del ambiente de la época, pero, también, a través de sus pensamientos, de sus conflictos personales y sus decisiones, nos enfrenta a temas más intensos y profundos: la soledad, la familia, el amor, los prejuicios, la lucha de la tradición contra la modernidad, la liberación de la mujer, la religión y, especialmente, la obligada elección de lo que considerar nuestro hogar. Todo esto consigue que esta obra transcienda más allá de un sencillo relato de costumbres.

El personaje protagonista, Eilis, está perfectamente construido y evoluciona moderadamente como el realismo demanda, además de mostrarnos las diferencias entre una Irlanda (Europa) estancada y una Norteamérica que promete aires nuevos para cierto tipo de personas. (No seré yo quien juzgue si esto se ha conseguido o no).

Puede que no nos gusten, pero los hombres negros lucharon en la guerra de ultramar, ¿No es así? ..Y murieron igual que nuestros hombres. Siempre lo digo. A nadie le importó su color cuando los necesitaron.

Se lee con agrado. Y la película de 2015 de John Crowley tampoco está mal.
Profile Image for Trevor.
1,294 reviews21.7k followers
February 5, 2011
Lorena and I went to see Colm in the middle of last year when he came to Melbourne. You’d think people from Ireland would make a point of coming over here at a time more likely to have nice weather, but I guess their national pride stops that sort of thing. “For God sake, you call this a winter, do you? I’ve lived through summers in Ireland that blah, blah, blah.”

(Although I went to listen to John Banville talking the year ‘The Untouchables’ came out – also in the heart of a Melbourne winter, with him dressed in a suit you could spit through, clearly wondering why the hell he had believed all the crap he had been told about sunny Australia)

Colm at least looked dressed for the occasion and talked about this book in his lecture or rather about why he came to write this book – which isn’t quite the same thing. I’ve spent a lot of time since the lecture both determined to read this book and thinking about some of the implications of what he had to say that night.

I’ve been wondering, while reading this one, if I would have read it in nearly the way I have if I hadn’t first heard him speak. I’m not sure that without hearing him first I would have been quite as alert to the themes of racism.

According to Colm he started to think about writing this novel because of his fellow countrymen’s reaction to the immigrants who have started ‘coming to the Bower’ increasingly over recent years. This, apparently, has been quite a surprising thing for the Irish – a nation much more used to being the source of a Diaspora than the destination for poor and huddled masses. So, the arrival of Polish and even non-white immigrants has presented interesting (and often ironic) issues for the Irish. If the reality of Irish emigration has not always been one of being welcomed with open arms, that desire has, at least, always been the underlying hope of those choosing to leave Ireland.

Colm made it clear that there are very few times when he feels ‘Irish’ (whatever that may mean), but he does feel so mostly only when he is in some other country. He says his allegiances are generally much more local than national, right down to county or town level. But to the extent that identity is formed in contrast to the ‘other’, being away from Ireland is the most obvious time for him to feel ‘Irish’. Colm discussed the uglier side of the Irish response to its recent immigration as being about just that – the construction of a ‘national identity’ on the basis of it being ‘challenged’ by the presence of ‘outsiders’ – and often ‘outsiders’ coming to Ireland to ‘take local jobs’ – could the irony be any more complete?

If this was all he said, I would not really have thought too much about either his talk nor really have wanted to read this book. What made reading this book fairly urgent was his saying that he wrote it to look at how those who have lived an immigrant existence are neither one thing nor the other – that they are, for example, no longer really ‘Polish’, and certainly not yet ‘Irish’ – and so are almost nothing. Almost a twilight zone nationality.

When my family came to Australia from Ireland we were supposed to be coming here on a working holiday planned to last for two years – and it is now 42 years later, so it has been a much more extended working holiday than anticipated. The idea we were here only for a short time meant, for many of the first years at least, that I didn’t really think about Australia as anything like ‘home’. That only came much, much later, but even so this feeling has always been both partial and strange. To be honest, it is a very long time since I have thought of any nation as ‘Home’.

It is this ‘not belonging’ that Colm explores in this book. A lesser writer would have either made this theme much too apparent or worse made the experiences of the protagonist painfully isolating. The interesting thing about this book is how painful it is in its own way even while the protagonist is given a ‘dream run’, with people bending over backwards to help her.

While questions of race and racism are never far from the surface, while questions of belonging and nationality are confronted head-on throughout the novel, this is not all this novel is ‘about’. This is also a novel looking at that other perennial nightmare of human existence – what does it mean to be in love? So, a big question throughout is, just because someone is ‘really nice’ and comfortable to be with and clearly head over heals in love with you – does that mean you should be in love with them?

The end of this book was much more confronting than I anticipated. In a class I attended recently the lecturer said something I’ve come back to again and again. He said that too many books have been written recently about philosophy as if philosophy was a good place to find answers. Books with titles like, ‘Plato, Not Prozac’ or ‘The Consolations of Philosophy’. He said that if you want answers you should probably turn to theology. The point of philosophy is not to provide answers, but rather to, as he put it, ‘trouble answers’. That is, philosophy ought to help you ‘to think’, rather than help you ‘to know’. Literature is much the same, and when you get to the end of this book you will know exactly what I mean.

Is there a right thing to do with our lives? Is there an ‘authentic’ way to live our lives? Or perhaps it is just that there are people we know that we don’t want to become and so therefore our guiding principle around what we do with lives is essentially reactive and avoidance. I don’t know the answer – but I was troubled by the questions the protagonist works through at the end of this book. Troubled in the sense of not knowing which of the alternative lives I would have chosen myself if in the same predicament – which is a sign of a very thoughtful novel. In the end perhaps truth is the story we find to tell ourselves about our lives, we tell so as to make sense of our lives – if we are very lucky.

You should now know just about as much about this novel as I did before I started reading it. I wonder if that is enough to make you want to read it as urgently as it made me want to?
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