It feels like ages since I’ve done a book review. For those of you who check in for “book club” only, the absence of reviews isn’t for lack of reading. Luckily, I have just the thing to recommend today, and ironically, it was passed to me through a real, live book club get-together here in Dublin. The girls and I met at my apartment at the end of January for our now monthly gathering to enjoy some food, wine, and intelligent (at least at the beginning of the night ;-)) book discussions.
Brooklyn, by Colm Tóibín, was passed on to me during our evening of fun. I read most of it within the week that I received it and finished it on the plane to Milan. Set in the 1950s, the story follows a young woman from Ireland as she travels across the ocean to Brooklyn, where she starts a new life of her own. The main character, Eilis Lacey, has lived in a small Irish town her whole life, yet cannot find a job, despite her bookkeeping skills. Her sister, the more confidant and charismatic of the two, arranges a meeting with a priest named Father Flood. Father Flood sets Eilis up with a job on a department store floor, in an Irish neighborhood in Brooklyn. The story follows Eilis as she leaves her mother and sister behind, creates a home for herself in Brooklyn, and falls in love with a man named Tony. The twist? Devastating news from back home sends Eilis back to Ireland, where she begins to question her life in America.
I found Brooklyn to be an engaging and beautifully-written story, especially since I’ve moved the opposite way – America to Ireland. I also love the time period of the story. 50s bathing suits are discussed and in one specific scene an embarrassed Eilis tries American bathing suits on one by one. Oh to be a part of a period when modest one-pieces were the style! I also enjoyed the description of her trip over by boat. Imagine spending 7 days on a ship crossing an ocean – and Eilis’ first experience is during a storm. Her relationships with her house mates are entertaining and the days spent as she falls in love with Tony are some of the best pieces of writing.
Yet, the end of the book was not my cup of tea. I found myself angry with the choices Eilis was making, and then even angrier with her final decision. In fact, I had a hard time understanding how a woman who had the courage to travel to a foreign country, so far from her family and the life she finds so comfortable, could be so weak at times. Her vulnerability could have been an acceptable, possibly even endearing, quality; however, I found myself frustrated. She is constantly pushed around and told what to do, and the one time she makes a strong decision, it’s not for herself. For a novel that is clearly a character study, I was a bit confused. And that may have been Tóibín’s intention.
Nevertheless, Brooklyn was a lovely story, and even with its faults, I was immersed in the story the whole way through. I would definitely recommend this novel, especially if you are in the mood for a character study with beautiful imagery. Worth the book club exchange, I’ll be handing this worthy read to another at my next gathering.