Brooklyn: A Novel

by Colm Toibin

Hardcover, 2009




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 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 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 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 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 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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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 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 GarySeverance
Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn is one of the most perfectly structured novels I have read. This is often said about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby. Unlike Gatsby, Brooklyn is told in a simple and direct style from the point of view of an introspective, somewhat shy Irish woman, Eilis. Her observations are accurate, pragmatic, and tolerant with minimal interpretation as she enters the workforce in Ireland, limited in opportunities for women. Her older sister Rose recognizes Eilis’ talent and is instrumental in getting her a work and living placement in Brooklyn with the help of a new era Catholic priest. Though there are many restrictions in America on women, Eilis is able to make advancements given her grit, patience and business talent, much more than in Ireland.

There are universal life traps in America as in Ireland that restrict freedom and opportunity for women. Abandoning one set of expectations for another, Eilis comes to the realization of her inevitable lost independence in both countries. Freedom and determination are undermined by love and regret regardless of setting.

The perfect structure and simple and direct style is consistent and seamless from start to finish. I did not want the story to end.
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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 Othemts
Set in the 1950s, this novel tells the story of young Irish woman named Eilis who gets the opportunity to emigrate to New York, work in a shop, and begin studying accounting and law. At its best, the story captures nuances of everyday life from the small kindnesses to the petty jealousy, homesickness to new love. Unfortunately, Eilis has a problem in that she seems incapable of making decisions for herself and thus allows others to shape her life for her. This comes to a head in the final section of the book which I found so frustrating and didn’t know if should be angry at Eilis for having no spine or angry at everyone in society who made her this way. Nevertheless, while unsatisfying on the narrative level this is a well-written and honest novel.… (more)
LibraryThing member flydodofly
Very well written, the novel felt so real that I, too, got frustrated with the main character before I asked myself whether this could be the very purpose of the novel, to show the way a young woman's life was not a matter of her making, but seemed to be influenced by just about everybody around her. She never had a chance to find who she was, to see what she likes or whom she likes - the things were set in motion for her and she was swept by them, and acted ad hoc, sometimes even astonishingly out of her role of a young Irish girl, showing sparks of a person she could have become. In the end, she cannot handle (hide) anything any more and succumbs to the first objection that threats to reveal what is going on, and that she has been a bad girl, really, doing things without telling anyone.
I must say I am a little puzzled by the title. The novel gives a strong picture of the times, the working place, the role of the Irish community and the church, but Brooklyn is not the main focus, almost a main character - or is it? It is a promise of a better life that does not turn out that good in the end, not for a young girl without any means or experience, and a background that has taught her to do as she is told and not fuss much.
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LibraryThing member bachaney
Brooklyn begins with Eilis, a young Irish woman, preparing to leave her small town in Ireland in the early 1950s to emigrate to Brooklyn. When Eilis arrives in America, she is overwhelmed, by the size of New York, the different types of people, and her new life. As she slowly adapts to her dull job as a shop clerk and her night classes at a local college, she begins to feel comfortable in this new life and her life in Ireland feels distant and strange. She even meets and falls in love with Tony, a young Italian American. When Eilis is suddenly recalled to Ireland after a family tragedy, she is re-confronted with her old life and must choose, is she the old Eilis or the new?

Although Brooklyn is a slow, quiet novel, and it took me a while to get into, in the end I loved this book. Toibin has a great way of capturing the everyday details of life and making them poignant and often beautiful. Nothing extraordinary happens in this book, but Eilis does have to make a huge decision that will alter the course of her entire life. The way Toibin presents this choice feels authentic without being overwrought, which is what makes this novel so good. In the end I was sad to see this novel finish, and I wished I could glimpse just a bit more of Eilis' world.

The novel also does a suburb job of capturing the attitudes and prejudices of first and second generation immigrants in Brooklyn in the 1950s. The changes that are about to fundamentally change America are beginning to take route, and Toibin addresses them quietly, as subtle changes in the everyday lives of his characters. Toibin's attention to these issues made the novel feel very authentic, and added to its quiet charm.
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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 TimBazzett
I love books that are driven by great characters. And Eilis Lacey, the protagonist of Colm Toibin's BROOKLYN is one of the best-drawn characters I've encountered in some time. I can see why the book was such a runaway bestseller. Part of that success is due to the fact, I think, that this is a woman's book. I should emphasize that it is exactly that, a "woman's book." It is definitely NOT "chick lit," a sub-genre which certainly has its place, but is still a decidedly inferior type of book.

Spoiler alert here, okay? -- The settings - both post-war Ireland and the borough of Brooklyn - are beautifully and realistically rendered, along with all of the melting-pot immigrant ambience of Brooklyn and the Jackie Robinson-era Dodgers, as well as the far-reaching influence of the Catholic Church on both sides of the Atlantic in those times. I enjoyed the book immensely, but only up to a certain point, i.e. Part Four. Then, because Toibin is so very good at portraying character, I began to slowly dislike his heroine more and more. And I didn't like her bereft and scheming mother any better. Like I said, this is a woman's book. I admire great writing, but I am still a guy. Guys hate weak, faithless women. I won't say any more. I don't wanna completely spoil things, although this book has been around for a couple years now and sold countless copies and spawned hundreds of reviews and reactions.

I was so upset by the last part of this book I almost gave it only 4 stars - I even thought about a 3-star rating. But what the hell. This Toibin guy can really write. If he can create a character real enough to hate, well, I'll say it again. This guy can write. All this having been said, I wonder if there will be a sequel. He could probably write a good one. And women would eat it up. I'd probably be tempted to read it myself. Or not.
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LibraryThing member missizicks
A beautiful story of inner strength, growing up and making your own way in the world. It made me cry a couple of times, it was so true to life. It's the kind of book that stops time around you and immerses you in the world the author has created. I did not want to let the characters go.
LibraryThing member GerardMDoyle
This book delights at many levels. For one who grew up in the south east of Ireland in the 1950-60s it transported me back to many familiar sights, sounds, smells and moments - with uncanny accuracy. The delectation is in the detail and Colm Tóibín has his details spot on. Mrs Kelly's shop, the Sunday night dance, early Mass, the Courtown Hotel, Curracloe and Ballyconnigar strand all evoke vivid memories. The petty snobbery, importance of appearances, and the social catastrophe of mass forced emigration are captured with a light touch, without anything actually being said about them.

Indeed it is the absence of saying anything about anything important that is probably the salient impression I take from the novel. Real issues are never discussed openly by the main characters or sometimes not at all. We Irish are masters at skirting the subject, dropping hints, making snide comments, raising an eyebrow to deliver a message but rarely are we ones for coming out in the open, addressing an issue up-front. We are certainly better than we were but the old ways of buttoned-up silent emotions that Tóibín lays out brilliantly remains our default stance.

What is exceptional about the main character Eilís Lacey is that she is endowed with heightened intuition for a young woman of her age and time. She can see into and beyond what people say to what they are thinking and feeling and her capacity for discernment is breathtaking. Her poise and manner set her apart but her inability to freely express her own inner emotions eventually is her undoing.

Denial runs through these pages as a leitmotif. Eilís's recently dead father is hardly mentioned, the harrowing feelings of everyone concerned at her departure for America (including her own) and other later events are never expressed, tears are shed in private, major issues are avoided or left to simmer, letters are written without crucial content, joy, love, ecstasy are barely acknowledged. Tóibín has illustrated an innate Irish ethnic trait in the most subtle yet damming way - by slowly and painstakingly unearthing its essence while never actually naming it. He learned his manners well in Enniscorthy.

The other themes of the book for me are emigration and women. The experience of a houseful of Irish emigrants in Brooklyn is brilliantly portrayed but it could be mirrored by similar groups in any part of England at the time, except for the particular constraints imposed by the distance from home. Lack of education meant limited opportunity and the Irish tended to huddle together for support and comfort. The beneficent influence of the Catholic Church gets its due as a bulwark of strength in a somewhat hostile environment. What is absent is any sense of frustration, anger or betrayal that this should be the lot of these young people - deserted by a nation pledged to cherish them. And that too is authentic. It is only in recent times that Irish people have moved beyond mute acceptance of forced mass emigration and started to ask the why questions.

Apart from Fr Flood who helps Eilís in Brooklyn there is hardly another major male character. Tóibín has a sub-plot here as well I suspect. In the official Ireland of government, news, church, and commerce it was only men who were seen or heard. Women were confined behind the lace curtains but that did not diminish their power exercised in ways that men neither understood nor felt. This is a hymn of praise to Irish women of that era who did not merely suffer in silence but rose above it to act with dignity, sense, courage and humility as beautifully revealed in the portraits of Eilís, her mother and her sister Rose. For accuracy sake the narrow mindedness and cruelty of other women is there too in Mrs Kelly and Mrs Kehoe but their parts merely serve to highlight the heroism of the Lacey women. Like many mothers and daughters of their time duty was what counted - knowing it and doing it come what may--and never letting the side down.

The book left me with much to remember and much to regret. As I wallowed in the nostalgia Tóibín craftily created I began to become uneasy and a sense of foreboding accompanied every page turn. As Eilís got happier I become more alert, more aware of impending doom. In that older Ireland joy was not just fleeting it was distrusted and discouraged. "You'll soon get your comeuppance me boyo!" And just on cue Tóibín brought me down to earth--but bless him--he didn't leave me totally devastated at the end.
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1439138311 / 9781439138311
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