Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

brooklyn cover‘Brooklyn’ by Colm Toibin was published in 2009, and won that year’s Costa Novel Award. It has now been made into a film. It is interesting to note that the film’s Irish location is shot in the very town Toibin writes about in this book. It is also the town in which he was born.

The story is that of a young girl, Eilis, who lives in Enniscorthy with her widowed mother and single, elder sister. It is the 1950s, and many Irish people are migrating to other lands in search of work, fortune, and a new life. Her brothers have already gone to England, and it seems to be decided for Eilis that she should travel to America to work and make a life for herself. All through the book, decisions seem to be made for Eilis by others. Once in America, she gets a job in a department store through the local Irish network in Brooklyn, but one thing she is determined to do is to get her accounting qualifications. She is in America for three years, changing  as time progresses – learning to wear make-up, dressing more fashionably than she did as an Irish lass from a small town, living independently, and dating a young Italian man who she falls in love with.

Ireland and family are a far-off places. However, a family tragedy calls her back to Ireland, and this is when her two worlds come crashing together. Eilis is an Irish girl torn between two very different places and two different loves. How it is resolved (if it is resolved) would be telling.

This book can be read as an undemanding book with a great story on one level, but there is a much deeper level to it if one looks beyond the surface. People have said that Toibin’s prose is deceptively simple and economical, that he writes like a painter building a picture stroke by stroke until the full painting is revealed (The Times Literary Supplement [UK]), and this is a very apt description of how this book and its characters and events unfold.

However this book speaks to you, you will find much to enjoy.


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