BLURB: It is Ireland in the 1950s and for Eilis Lacey, as for so many young Irish girls, oppurtinities are scarce. So when her sister arranges for her to emigrate to New York, Eilis knows she must go, leaving behind her family and home for the first time.Arriving in a crowded lodging house in Brooklyn, Eilis can only be reminded of what she has sacrificed. She is far from home – and homesick. Then, just as she takes tentative steps toward friendship, and perhaps something more, Eilis receives news which sends her back to Ireland. There she will be confronted by a terrible dilemma – a devastating choice between duty and one great love.
I discovered this novel after watching the 2016 film featuring Saoirse Ronan as Eilis (la-la-lovely!) and read the book after watching the film, which is rarely a good idea, but in this case actually made the reading experience much more intense for me.
This book has also earned a place in my heart by being THE book that got me back into reading after I had a little book-crisis early this year. (How beautiful that it’s now also the first book I’ve ever reviewed online).
The book can be roughly separated into three parts: at first, there’s Eilis living in Ireland, working on a crappy job at the local grocery shop, lacking any exciting perspective in life`; no promising guy, no upcoming career oppurtinities (and if those words don’t immediately make you think of the The Clash-song, you should go listen to it now) etc.
Until her sister Rose arranges for her to go to New York City and work in a clothing retail store. And so begins, in my opinion, the funniest part of the novel: the sea passage to America. Colm Tóibín is describing the time on the boat so vividly, the sea-sickness, the selfish next-cabin-neighbours and Eilis most nervously preparing herself for the immigration control, that he had me clutching my book, laughing out loud, gasping, cringing…
The book continues to go on extensively about Eilis trying to gain a foothold in New York City- loud, hectical and intimidating compared to placid life in Ireland. She of course suffers from terrible home sickness, being on her own and far away for the first time, and only starts to feel at home when she meets an interesting guy…
To enjoy this part as much as I did, you don’t even have to be interested in American immigrants, although I found the historical context quite interesting; you can simply enjoy the very gently painted portrait of one young Irish girl, thrown into a lodging house full of intriguing girls, a retail store fizzing with pressure and racism and a city full of strangers.
I’ve often heard people complain about the plain language of the novel, that it makes Eilis appear to be quite a simple-minded person, but I find just that intriguing: how Colm Tóibín manages to weave such a delicate picture by just touching on certain plot points.
The third and final part of the novel is where I’m still struggling to pinpoint down my feelings about things, people and decisions. Because I had seen the film before reading the book, I went into the story with a certain feeling towards the relationship Eilis had established in New York, and was quite irritated by the way the novel described her inner conflict.
The film basically left the viewer with a warm, fuzzy, film feeling while the book left me questioning life and responsibility, feeling kind of stale, but enlightened at the same time.
I don’t know if you would feel the same way about the book if you haven’t seen the film before, but for me, that was the reading experience for like the last one hundred pages. That much emotional involvement for me meant I came out of this book with a ton of emotional tangle and there’s only one feeling I’m absolutely sure about: I really loved this book.
I loved that it made me laugh and suffer and stay up until three in the morning on a school day to finish it, and I want to warmly recommend it to any of you.
Have a lovely day, and if you’ve already read Brooklyn, please tell me how you feel about it!