Brooklyn: A Novel

by Colm Toibin

Hardcover, 2009

Call number




Scribner (2009), Edition: First Edition, 262 pages


Eilis Lacey is unable to find a job in Ireland in the years following World War II. An Irish priest from Brooklyn, New York offers to sponser her to live an work in America, so she decides she must go leaving her mother and sister behind. She adapts to her new life by working in a department store and the pain of parting has subsided until she receives devastating news from home that threatens the promise of her future.

Media reviews

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.
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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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member dmsteyn
This novel, about a young Irishwoman’s experiences in her birth country and the deracination she experiences when she moves to America, touched a deep chord in me. I found the observations on home-sickness and sadness beautifully measured and assured. They reminded me of my own first experiences away from home, and it is this resonant quality of Tóibín’s writing that I enjoyed most. The story is not remarkable in any way; there are no great plot twists, nor does Tóibín bother with any over-the-top scenes. In less assured hands, it could all seem very pedestrian, but Tóibín’s mastery is in making the ordinary seem extraordinary, taking a common little life and infusing it with dignity and interest.

The heroine, Eilis, does not seem remarkable at all, at least initially, but through her experiences of pain and love, we come to see her as a fully rounded personality, with her own hopes and aspirations. One could easily dismiss her story as inconsequential, but that would be foolish. It is, after all, the little, seemingly inconsequential events that make up a life. And Eilis does experience monumental events in her own life, even if they do not seem so monumental to an indifferent observer.

Tóibín handles Eilis’s burgeoning character expertly, especially when he describes her return to Ireland after a tragedy at home. The way he handles this tragedy, and its effects on Eilis and her family, together with a secret that Eilis has kept from her family, is truly masterly. He sets up tension without resorting to any outlandish tricks, making Eilis’s situation seem all the more universal. The book left me feeling sad at the seeming determinism of our lives, but also hopeful that we do have the ability to choose, whether for good or ill. That may seem somewhat trite, but any fiction that makes one consider your own choices in life seems, to me, to be doing something right.

I found Tóibín’s unadorned style refreshing, but a bit anaemic at times. That sounds a bit contradictory, but what I am trying to say is that I enjoyed the purity of the prose, but I wanted a bit more red meat. I tend to prefer a more descriptive style of writing – not necessarily purple patches, but cross-hatched colouring. Perhaps the argument could be made that this style fits the nature of the story. Or perhaps this is just the way Tóibín always writes. Either way, this is not really a criticism, just a preference.

On the whole, a beautifully understated book, which I recommended for anyone who likes thoughtful literature. I will definitely be reading more of Colm Tóibín.
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LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
Brooklyn tells the story of Eilis, a young Irish woman, who immigrates to the United States in the 1950s when she can't find work in her small town in Ireland. Eilis is a reluctant American, and intensely homesick, until she slowly accustoms herself to her new life in Brooklyn. She becomes involved with a second generation Italian immigrant and begins to plan for the future when she is called back to Ireland and forced to make an active choice in determining her own life.

Brooklyn is the story of immigration, the newcomer whose longing for home is almost unbearable, the next generation, aware of the past but eager to make a future and the uneasy mingling of diverse cultures on the streets of New York just after WWII.

Colm Toibin's voice is quiet and measured but perfectly describes Eilis's strong emotions. His descriptions of mid-century New York and Ireland are vivid and alive. An excellent, excellent book..
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LibraryThing member womansheart
Youthful Emigrant to Brooklyn, NY - Experiences Loneliness, then, Romantic Love along with Education and an American Way of Life including Baseball.

Following my purposely slow reading of [Lark and Termite], this book [Brooklyn: A Novel] was another slow, soulful read.

It is also quite riveting, and my hat is off to Toibin for his brilliant ability to convey the feelings and experiences of being: female, an emigrant from Ireland, inexperienced in the ways of the world, in a romantic love relationship for the first time, a cog in the wheel of a capitalistic commerce system, a resident of boarding houses, and a student taking college classes in a city/country very different in many, many ways from her small town of birth.

This book carried me along on a swirling, gliding current of emotion and connection/isolation/dislocation. Toibin definitely succeeded with this one, IMHO.

Haven't read the other nominations on the Booker long list, but I completely understand why this one is included therein.

If you like the Slow Food movement, where freshness and nuance count toward a mingling of delicious flavors in the mouth ... you might enjoy [Brooklyn: A Novel] for the melding of the characters, story and experiences of the protagonist. It is still quietly simmering in my brain after several days.

Five stars. I recommend this book to the readers who enjoy seeking out and reading something that goes far deeper than the surface and the superficial.

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LibraryThing member jeniwren
Longlisted for the Booker this is a beautiful story about a young girl living in Ireland in the 1950's who cannot find work and emigrates to the United States. Homesick and lonely living in a boarding house she finds her new life hard. After enrolling in college she soon meets a young man with whom she experiences first love. Just when she begins to feel settled in her new home she is unexpectedly called back to Ireland which brings with it a difficult choice.
This was a most enjoyable read and although it has a very gentle tone it is powerful storytelling.
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LibraryThing member rmckeown
I have a number of sources for discovering new writers. One fertile source is the Booker Prize, given annually to the best novel of the year. I have come to know many fine authors – Anne Enright, John Banville, and Ian McEwan to name a few. These prize-winning authors have given me many hours of pleasure, but the “also-rans” should not be neglected. One such author frequently short-listed for the prize is Colm Tóibín. Blackwater Lightship became my first experience with this wonderful Irish writer, who is currently a visiting professor at Princeton University. I have read three of his books, and Brooklyn represents a 180 degree shift from the tone and story-line of his previous works.

Eilis Lacey has just finished vocational school, and she has a knack for figures. She helps out in a small shop in Enniscorthy, Ireland. Eilis lives with her mother and older sister Rose. Unfortunately, she cannot find a permanent job in her town, so when a priest visits the Laceys, Rose tells him about Eilis’ plight. He offers to get her emigration papers for America, with a promise of a job and a room in a respectable boarding house. Eilis seems unsure, but she knows her options are limited, so she decides to take the plunge and leave the Olde Sod for the new world.

“New” is quite an understatement for Eilis. She finds herself on her own for the first time in a strange and wonderful land. She adapts well to her land lady, Mrs. Kehoe, and her roommates, who take her dancing. She makes new friends, and gets along well in her position as a counter girl at a department store. Set in the early 50s, she has all the innocence and sense of peace and happiness of that decade. A short bout of homesickness hardly slows her down at all.

Unlike some of his other work, Tóibín does not delve into the dark underside of life and its difficulties here. Rather, his warm prose weaves a serene tale of life in rural Ireland and Brooklyn, NY. Eilis matures quickly, and develops a relationship with young man she meets at a dance.

Tony is a gentleman in every sense of the word. On page 148, the first negative thing happens to Eilis. While walking Eilis home from her night classes, he spins a tale of American Baseball and his love for a particular team. Tóibín writes, “’You know what I really want ?’ he asked. ‘I want our kids to be Dodger fans.’ He was so pleased and excited at the idea, she thought, that he did not notice her face freezing.” Eilis was shocked at the speed Tony has pushed the relationship. As she does throughout the novel, Eilis turns the situation over and over in her mind, figuring from every angle how she should respond. When she does confront Tony, she does so perfectly. He understands and backs off.

The best thing about Tóibín’s novels, however, is what can only be described as lovely prose. Eilis returns to Ireland for a visit, leaving a distraught Tony behind. Eilis thinks of him often, but doesn’t tell anyone. Tóibín writes, “not telling her mother or her friends made every day she had spent in America a sort of fantasy, something she could not match with the time she was spending at home. It made her feel strangely as though she were two people, one who had battled against two cold winters and many hard days in Brooklyn and fallen in love there, and the other who was her mother’s daughter, the Eilis whom everyone knew, or thought they knew” (226).

Don’t mistake this novel for a romance. It is a sensitive and detailed portrait of a young woman coming of age and dealing with many changes in her life. Will she go back to Tony? Or stay with Jim Farrell in Enniscorthy? I won’t tell. You will have to float through this beautiful novel to find out. 5 stars.

--Jim, 12/7/09
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LibraryThing member AlisonY
I adored this book: it grabbed me from the first page and didn't let me go.

Yes, it's quite a girly book, but who cares - it has pace, warmth, and loveable characters, and certainly tugs at your heart strings.

It's surprising that this book is written by a man, as he so successfully gives real womanly insight to the character of Eilis and the other women in the book. He achieved something special in that he had me really behind the big decision the character made at one point, and then equally rooting for her when she seemed to have a change of heart. To me that is just proof of wonderful writing - I was right inside the main character's head, feeling the mixed emotions with her.

This is a great beach read. If you haven't got to it yet, but it on your reading list for your next vacation.

Unashamedly 5 stars.
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LibraryThing member SqueakyChu
The word “dense” comes to mind when describing this book. The writing in this novel is so tightly woven, that no detail is spared, giving a very precise portrayal of Eilis Lacey, the heroine of this book. In the story, the young woman Eilis leaves her mother and sister in Ireland to travel by boat to Brooklyn, New York. There a job has been pre-arranged for her in a retail store by a priest who is a friend of the family. Eilis knows no one in New York other than this priest and has no idea what life will be like in the rooming house in which she is placed to live.

This novel is a look back in time to the 1950’s, both in Ireland and in New York. It’s a glimpse of a world gone by, but not forgotten. The finest feature of this story is its portrayal of the immigrant experience. The author lets no feeling go unexplored as Eilis becomes acquainted with new people, a different environment, and the twin challenges of employment and further education. One cannot help but be fascinated by Eilis’s story and root for an easy transition and absorption into a brand new culture.
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LibraryThing member BlackSheepDances
This is a simple and gentle story about a young woman's immigration to New York from Ireland in the years after WWII. Much of the novel contains her personal thoughts and her analyzing her future and decisions and life in general. It has an easy pace with lots of descriptive elements and a vast array of characters.

I really wanted to love this book, but it just seemed oversimplified. I think virtually anyone could have thought up the plot if they were given the basic elements (girl alone in big city, first real job, meeting new people, family crisis). In fact, at one point it felt like an After School Special.

While Toibin depicts the female brain very well in some areas, there are other things that don't ring true. For example, other than her work and classes, the main character seems to have no curiousity about the world in general, or about the exciting new country she has come to. In subjects such as racism and the Holocaust, not only does she know nothing but she has no interest in learning more. And while we hear much of her thoughts, some subjects she doesn't even visit mentally: when her female boss makes a sexual pass at her, she feels uncomfortable but never ponders it again. Yet she ponders so much more trivial stuff all the time throughout the book (what to wear or where to eat)
Additionally, while there are some tragic events, overall there doesn't seem to be enough conflict to make the story interesting. All the other characters are almost too good to be true, some crusty or cranky but all of them (excepting Miss Kelly) are big hearted and generous. Money is never really an issue, and things go amazingly smooth for such a huge life change. Again, that seems incredibly unrealistic. And the strange behavior of her fiance's moodiness, her mother's unpleasantness, and her landlady's suspicions are never really explored.

I intend to read more of his work (I have ordered the Blackwater Lightship) and I hope things become a bit more complex and realistic.
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LibraryThing member DieFledermaus
Weighty subjects are broached in Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn – emigration, opportunities in America, racism, class barriers, religion, love and death – but it is a very intimate, quiet book. I found it compelling and read it pretty much in one day. Eilis Lacey is a somewhat naïve girl who keeps to herself after being separated from her family when she emigrates from Ireland to America. Toibin is able to create a good sense of his main character – introverted, unsure, constantly worried that her judgment is incorrect. All the little issues that Eilis faces become involving topics of concern when described in Toibin’s clean, unadorned prose.

Even before emigrating, Eilis is an observer – a good one. Some might complain about the lack of dramatic events and a focus on small details, but this establishes Eilis’ character and concerns – she often notes what people wear, how her clothes compare, if she is acting correctly and not standing out in every situation. She doesn’t just observe but collects these memories to tell her sister, Rose, (and possibly her mother), as she has always done, though it is hard in her new life with rushed, impersonal letters. Eilis is concerned with propriety but not prim and she is amenable and looks to please. These qualities make her kind and tolerant – she is less concerned about race and class than her housemates, for example. However, they also make her malleable, forgetful and willing to go along with what others want from her which leads to some unkind behavior at the end (though some creaky plot developments also help).

The synopsis makes it seem that the story is one mostly of thwarted love, but this is something of a misdirection. The book spends enough time on her life in Ireland with her needy mother and capable sister and leisurely follows her life in Brooklyn – settling in, job woes, personal conflicts – before she finds love. I also liked that fact that not everything mentioned was significant, just a part of life – for example, we don’t get all the details of her boyfriend’s previous girlfriend or a man that she notices during a Christmas dinner. I thought it was very well done and enjoyed the book immensely – wanted more at the end – but I could see that if someone wants something a bit more dramatic, they might not enjoy it.
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LibraryThing member Cait86
Brooklyn is another novel on the 2009 Booker Prize Longlist, and in my opinion, it is a contender for the Shortlist, if not the prize itself. Set in 1950s Ireland, and then Brooklyn, it is the story of Eilis Lacey, a young woman trying to find her place in the world. Employment in Ireland is difficult, and so with the help of an Irish-American priest, Eilis moves to Brooklyn to work in a large department store. Living in a boarding house with other young women, Eilis is lonely and homesick. Slowly she begins to feel at home in America, until she is unexpectedly pulled back to her homeland.

The idea of "home" is one of the main themes in this book - is home where you live? where your family is? does it ever really change? Eilis' struggle to start again in America causes her to grapple with just where she fits in this world. Toibin's writing is clear and dynamic, and his characterization of Eilis was spot on. I always appreciate an author who can create well-drawn characters of the opposite sex, and Toibin excels here.

Unfortunately, the ending left me wanting. Brooklyn ends with a resolution of sorts, but not enough of one to satisfy me. I needed more of Eilis' story, more of the repercussions of her decisions, just more. I guess this wanting is a compliment to Toibin, as he definitely kept me interested, but at only 260 pages, Brooklyn should have been longer.

That said, I am glad that my foray into the Longlist has introduced me to another author, and I plan on reading more of Toibin's oeuvre.
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LibraryThing member thornton37814
Eilis Lacey lives in a small town in Ireland. As she comes of age, there is no work to be had for her in Ireland, so with the help of a priest, it is arranged that she will move to Brooklyn to work in a department store. She's able to further her education by attending night classes. She meets a nice Italian boy at a church-sponsored dance. Then tragedy strikes in Ireland. Her future is threatened.

I was prepared to give this beautifully written book a 5 star rating until the last 50 pages or so. I really can't discuss my disappointments without making it a spoiler in this review, but I felt that some of the decisions might not have been consistent with the ones the girl I'd come to know in the novel would have made. In the end, I settled on 4 stars. I will be looking for other books by Toibin in the future.
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LibraryThing member Booksnyc
his slim novel is written in Toibin's signature spare style - on the surface it may seem like little is going on but the power lies in observations stated in simple sentences. In the first half of the book (approximately 125 pages), we meet Eilis in Co. Wexford and follow her across the Atlantic to 1950's Brooklyn where she lives in a boardinghouse and works in a department store on Fulton St. Eilis also meets Tony, a first generation Brooklynite, and without much enthusiasm begins a relationship with him. At times, I was frustrated by Eilis's lack of passion for Tony - he so obviously cared for her and she seemed indifferent at times. But as the novel progressed, it was clear that her love for Tony, although not wildly passionate, was certainly a slow burn. After a tragedy at home, Eilis returns to Ireland and grapples with the life she left behind including obligations to her mother.

This novel obviously deals with the theme of immigration. Toibin does an excellent job of depicting the life of an immigrant as one caught between two worlds. As Eilis tries to assimilate into life in Brooklyn, she also aches for the familiarity of her home and family in Ireland. In this quote, the Eilis's homesickness is palpable:

"She had been keeping the thought of home out of her mind, letting it come to her only when she wrote or received letters or when she woke from a dream in which her mother or father or Rose . . . appeared. She thought it strange that the mere sensation of savouring the prospect of something could make her think for a while that it must be the prospect of home."

And when she returns to Ireland, she finds she doesn't as easily fit there as she would have hoped:

"She had put no thought into what it would be like to come home because she had expected that it would be easy; she had longed so much for the familiarity of these rooms that she had presumed that she would be happy and relieved to step back into them, but, instead, on this first morning, all she could do was count the days before she went back."

As the daughter of immigrants with a grandmother who returned "home" to Scotland twice only to realize as much as she didn't feel settled in NY, she also no longer belonged back home, the loss of belonging and home experienced by immigrants resonates for me. Toibin's spare, bleak style only makes this loss that much more poignant in Brooklyn.

I am a fan of Toibin's work and Brooklyn is no exception - it is moving in a very quiet way and stays with you after you read the last page.
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LibraryThing member TheAmpersand
The best thing I can say about "Brooklyn" is that, merely by being set in the nineteen fifties, long after the surge of Irish immigration to the United States receded, it deftly avoids a lot of the clichés that plague novels that describe the Irish experience in America. Fittingly, perhaps, the book is also unsparingly unsentimental about what it means the emigrate: the homesickness, the awful fear and apprehension that often accompany partings that are likely to be permanent, and the sense of being displaced: in a place but not of it. Tóibín illustrates the suffocatingly strict social expectations of the small Irish town that Eilis leaves and the (rapidly dissolving) Irish-American community that is set to welcome her on the other side very well. The fact that she lived in a world so predictable that a young woman's being seen with a young man alone more than twice could set off rumors of an impending marriage, makes her moving to the United States by herself seem like an unimaginably risky venture, as it might well have been in those days. Watching Eilis, who finds herself in a boardinghouse under the too-watchful eye of a controlling, small-minded landlady, fight for every second of personal space and free time that her lonely new life will allow her is also pretty heartbreaking. While it probably doesn't mean to, "Brooklyn" makes the case that we don't have stereotype of the drunken Irishman because the Irish are inclined towards drink, but because the lives of Irish lives were often hard and solitary. In a world where air travel and the internet has made much of the world readily accessible to us, "Brooklyn" reminds you how hard moving away from a familiar place can be.

Having said all that, and noting that Tóibín is a careful, skilled, and economical writer, I can't really say I enjoyed "Brooklyn" all that much. The book's third-person narration doesn't have a whole lot of indirect in it, and while it's well-written and well constructed, this one is slower and more deliberate than it could have been. It constructs its characters well, but I can't say I ever felt them breathe. This may simply be due to my own preferences and tastes: perhaps readers who prefer nineteenth century literature will be able to sense the interiority that didn't really come through for me. Prospective readers should also be warned that "Brooklyn" is one of those novels, like, say, "Mrs. Dalloway", where nothing much happens. This isn't to say that life-altering decisions aren't taken or that Tóibín's characters don't grow or change, but the book's scope -- like its setting -- sometimes seems painfully constricted. I can't quite imagine how they managed to make a movie out of it. This is an admirable book in many ways, but it's really not my thing. It could be yours, though.
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LibraryThing member gakgakg
[Grumpy reader alert - Sorry this is so negative! I'm feeling really PMS'ed today and that may have something to do with it.]

Summary: A boring story about a dull character that reads like an encyclopedia. I felt like the author explored nothing interesting and actually concentrated on the most boring of details, including urinating in buckets. I kept waiting for a villain, for a juicy secret about the priest, for a revelation about her work visa being for deviant sexual slavery... and got nothing.

Three words to sum up this novel: vanilla, vanilla, vanilla.
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LibraryThing member alexdaw
Our family dog Jessie died the day I chose to read the book, so the book was the trigger/therapy I needed to release the grief. I probably blubbered more than the book deserved so please don't be put off. It's not a weepy romantic novel by any stretch of the imagination.

It is a novel that is written in a deceptively simple style about deceptively "ordinary" stuff. A young woman leaves her home and her country and deals with the consequent challenges that brings. It's about her making a world for herself - of her own choosing where she can - and moral choices. The author captures feelings and thoughts so beautifully. I particularly liked this segment where he is describing her first feelings of homesickness - "She was nobody here. It was not just that she was a ghost in this room, in the streets on the way to work, on the shop floor. Nothing meant anything. The rooms in the house on Friary Street belonged to her, she thought: when she moved in them she was really there. In the town, if she walked to the shop or to the Vocational School, the air, the light, the ground, it was all solid and part of her, even if she met no one familiar. Nothing here was part of her. It was false, empty, she thought....." Great stuff.

There's so much to like about this book. Interesting glimpses of a time now past. Eilis' landlady deliberates with the Priest whether or not she should purchase a television set....."She worried, she said, tht it might not catch on and she'd be left with it....there was no guarantee that they would go on making programmes and she did not think she would take the risk."

Go on - go and get a copy now...
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LibraryThing member jayne_charles
I loved the calm, measured way the author went about telling this story. There was no messing around with symbolism or skirting round the issues, he just told it like it was. His writing had a clarity and simplicity I appreciated very much.

Set in the 1950s is the story of Eilis, a young woman from rural Ireland, who moves to Brooklyn in search of opportunities that are not available to her back home. While she suffers minor setbacks along the way (bitchy housemates, homesickness and a gloriously vomity scene on board ship) she is successful in making a life for herself in the USA. It got me thinking how sometimes you don’t need a catalogue of disasters to make a book enjoyable. I liked the way things went generally well for Eilis as she is a likeable character, one I could sympathise with, and someone who always tries to do the right thing. On the other hand, when things go swimmingly there is always the suspicion that when a disaster comes it will be a very big one. So it proves here.

The book is instructive as to the morals of the day, and when these morals are combined with a Catholic upbringing, and a network of all-seeing relatives and acquaintances, the effects are seen to be suffocating.

The story ended earlier than I was expecting. There are several clues dropped by the author in the later stages which help the reader work out what happens after the text stops, though I’m inclined to think not knowing might be better.
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LibraryThing member lisa.schureman
Eilis leaves Ireland in search of education and job opportunities. She's passing her classes and has adjusted to life in Brooklyn which includes a boyfriend. She doesn't tell her mother about everything, this is a family that is worried about worrying each other so important details like Tony, Eilis' boyfriend aren't mentioned. The Eilis' sister dies and after she finds out that she's passed her classes she returns to Ireland to visit. Her mother thinks that she's going to stay and has made plans for her to attend her friend's wedding. She's also trying to set her up with Jim Farrell, find her a job where Rose used to work, and become her mother's companion. Little does her mother know that Eilis is already married.… (more)
LibraryThing member michaelbartley
the story is set in the time right after ww 2. the place Ireland and New York City. the theme is on community can be both a place of support and comfort and a source of oppression. the main character grew up in a small irish town. ruled by years of tradition where you knew what your role was and what your future would be. she goes to new york to an irish community ruled by the same traditions. it was changing, the was the generation before mad men. it both loving and oppresive.… (more)
LibraryThing member yhgail
I had high expectations for this book. I was disappointed in it. I didn't think the lead character acted within the framework of her development and personality. At the end I was not sympathetic with the main character and I didn't think the story believable. It would have been believable if the leads personal character had been different but it just didn't seem to follow to me.… (more)
LibraryThing member fig2
Eilis Lacey leaves her home in Ireland for a new life in Brooklyn. Although she didn't initiate it, she comes to embrace her new life and finds happiness. An unexpected trip home causes Eilis to question her career, her home, her place in the world and, most of all, her affections. Facing a crisis she could never anticipate, Eilis must finally choose her own path.… (more)
LibraryThing member ForeignCircus
As the daughter of an Irish immigrant, I picked up this book hoping for another perspective on the immigrant experience, a hope that was more than met by this extraordinary novel. As Eilis' story unfolds, the reader is able to see her grow and change as she learns some of the lessons that Brooklyn has to teach. I was delighted that the borough itself was so obviously a character in the story, exerting its own personality and influence both on Eilis and on the reader.

I heard Colm Toibin read from the book and talk about the experience of writing it- the starting point was a story he heard in his youth, a snippet of conversation that stuck in his head until this book was written. He perfectly captures the confusion and homesickness of a young girl uprooted from all she has ever known, and lovingly documents her gradual transformation into womanhood. This quiet tale will stick with you; though the novel itself was a quick read, the story and Eilis' final choice, linger long after the book is completed. Definitely a must read!
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LibraryThing member BCCJillster
Perfectly readable but didn't break any new ground. Yes the last third was better/different, but it kind of left me feeling like the whole reading experience was quite ordinary. That said, it would make a really good book group discussion because there would be lots of disagreement about the decisions made and how they were thought through.… (more)
LibraryThing member ChickLitFan
Brooklyn tells the story of a young Irish woman named Ellis moving to New York. It took awhile for me to engage with this story, which happened somewhere in the second half of the book. Even by the end, I was mystified by some of Ellis' actions and the author's choice not to further reveal Ellis' motivations. I found the emotional connection curiously muted, despite some dramatic plot developments (which I won't spoil here). I don't recommend this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member otterpopmusic
What the hell? I am actually annoyed at this book for how bloodless it is. I had just finished re-reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and thought it would be fun to follow with another novel set in Brooklyn later in the century. But this book in no way evoked the sense of place that A Tree does. And how did the writer who made Henry James come to life in The Master create such a hollow protagonist? The first two thirds of the book were boring, and then when something did finally happen, I couldn't care.
Maybe I read it wrong. Maybe Eilis is the sort of existential hero that Camus would have written.
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LibraryThing member Aeyan
Colm Tóibín's Brooklyn gracefully bespelled me. He did it with ease, less prone to showy flair than to subtle intimation. After finishing the novel, letting this Irish immigrant to Brooklyn in the 1950's perambulate in my thoughts, I realized that her naiveté should have stricken me at some point as annoying or distracting or hand-wringing at the very least. Eilis Lacey never evokes a negative response from me however. Instead Tóibín manages to usher me in as a confidant to Eilis, following her bildungsroman as if learning details from a close friend. However even the best of friends reach a place of frustration at times with each other, but Eilis and I never quarreled. I never found her snappish or irritating or, that teetering abyss of the maturing protagonist, whiny. She has a composure and quietude, not born from confidence, though that she slowly develops, but rather from a simplicity of spirit and purpose. The machinations and hyperactivity around her do not seem to cultivate a similar responsive blossom; her Irish roots continue to send up calmly swaying green shoots even amidst the hustle of burgeoning Brooklyn.

Perhaps to say that her blossom does not hybridize with her surroundings is erroneous; rather, we might say we are altered in the same sun as she, drinking the same newness of place and peoples and earth, moving at such a pace that the changes that actually do unfold - a slight change in petal color and fragrance - are so natural and unhurried that it is not until a return trip to her home of Enniscorthy that the comparative growth can be witnessed.

Mayhap too contributing to this obnubilated sense of change is the knowledge that Eilis did not seek out this uprooting relocation to Brooklyn. Her sense of order and the path of her life never enfolded a replanting in America; indeed, her Enniscorthy roots were quite well grounded, entwined with her mother's and her friends', not seeking out new ground like a free-wheeling and voracious nettle. Yet, new ground Eilis was given, and part of the beauty of this book comes at the very end, when her choices are arrayed before her, not so dissimilar in isolation, yet contextually divergent, like a rose graft taken from its home and grown in different terroir.

Behind the friendship with Eilis that Tóibín elicits from me there is also a sense of historicity that nudges me on a deeply personal level. When Eilis meets and begins an affectionate courtship with the boyish Italian-American Tony, I felt recalled to the stories that my grandparents told of their own courtship, as if I was reading a more inclusive narrative from one of them, reliving with them the sensations and joys they would have experienced.

That Tóibín crafts a patient and tender maturation for Eilis, compelling and believable without treading within angst, and the sense of familial remembrance he evokes left me rather awed and with a lingering feeling of peace, like I'd just put my nose in a rose bloom and inhaled deeply, forgetful of the thorns that usually await, but, finding none, return to inhale once more.
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1439138311 / 9781439138311
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