Author: Colm Tóibín
Publishing Date: March 2010
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. Leaving her family and country, Eilis heads for unfamiliar Brooklyn, and to a crowded boarding house where the landlady’s intense scrutiny and the small jealousies of her fellow residents only deepen her isolation.
Slowly, however, the pain of parting is buried beneath the rhythms of her new life — until she begins to realize that she has found a sort of happiness. As she falls in love, news comes from home that forces her back to Enniscorthy, not to the constrictions of her old life, but to new possibilities which conflict deeply with the life she has left behind in Brooklyn.
In the quiet character of Eilis Lacey, Colm Tóibín has created one of fiction’s most memorable heroines and in Brooklyn, a luminous novel of devastating power. Tóibín demonstrates once again his astonishing range and that he is a true master of nuanced prose, emotional depth, and narrative virtuosity.
MY THOUGHTS (w/spoilers):
I may be in the minority by saying that I thought this book was just okay. I felt empathy for Eilis's struggle of having to travel alone to a new country with no friends or family to await her arrival. Specially since the trip took longer by boat and she was very seasick. She had to learn how to survive living in a new place and try to make new friends. While reading the book you can tell she was young and naive and she did show some spirit at times but overall she just went with the flow.
I think that's what bothered me about it and it probably says more about me than the character. Eilis didn't make her own decisions throughout the book (e.g., her sister got her the trip to America, Father Flood found her a place to live, a job and in school for bookkeeping). Her life seemed to be run by everyone else. She didn't seem to have any opinion of what she wanted or she didn't say it to anybody. She was very passive aggressive with her roommates and her landlord. She clearly didn't like them because they would say things she didn't like but she didn't say anything to stop them. The reason she married Tony wasn't because she loved him but because she couldn't say no. Tony clearly loved her and wanted to start a family but she couldn't tell him that she wants to work instead of a family.
Eilis did have moments of character but they were rare and far in between. For instance, when she assisted the black customers at the department store she worked. She knew her supervisor was not pleased but she did it anyway. Also she was nice to her roommate Dolores even though everyone else made fun of her for being a scrubber (she cleaned the house for rent). It was in these instances that I found myself cheering for Eilis. I wanted her to do something for herself. Unfortunately, she continued to follow what everyone else told her to do.
I feel like I wanted to like the book because everyone was talking about what a good book it was. The more I tried to force the issue the more annoyed I became with her.
What did you think of the book? Did you like Eilis's character? Did you understand her perspective? Do you think you could move to another country by yourself? Would you have made the same decisions she did?
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