Book Review – Colm Toibin – Brooklyn


brooklyn - colm toibin

I saw the film Brooklyn a little while ago. Although not being genuinely Irish, only sort of ‘adopted country’ Irish, I laughed my head off. Now, I don’t think that was the intention of the film, to be funny, but all the little asides, the comments about clothes, behaviour, morals and the rest, well I knew it and I understood it, and it made me laugh. One of the characters, Mrs Kehoe commands all the young ladies to stop their ‘giddiness’ when they are seated around her table. I can see it now, we still use it in our house.

Because I had enjoyed the film, then I thought I would enjoy the book.

Mmm, no, not really.

Where in the film, Eilis comes across as being slightly hesitant, or lacking in confidence, or lacking the normal Irish habit of chatting nineteen to the dozen, in the book I felt like banging her head off a brick wall she lacked so little emotion.

I know, I know, Colm Toibin is an amazing writer who has won loads of awards, but he’s just not my style.

Eilis is sent off to Brooklyn in the 50’s, by her prettier, more confident sister Rose who organises it all. But Eilis is not ready and is desperately homesick.

When she finally finds her feet she falls in love with basically the first man who asks her to dance and she discovers she is happy.

Fate comes calling however when her sister Rose dies suddenly and Eilis must return home.

Caught between her confident new life of Brooklyn, and her hometown in Ireland Eilis forgets to mention she got married. She slips straight back into her old life, but a better version of it. She gets a job, she is being courted by a young man who is the catch of the town and who offers her what she always wanted; a good life close to her mother and  with a bright future.

But Ireland being Ireland, (someone always knows someone who knows someone), she is caught out, her deception is unveiled and she instantly makes her choice. Except it wasn’t really a choice. Fate nudged her hand.

I do wonder how the story would have evolved if she had made a different decision.

The plot is good, but yet the book wasn’t for me. Or, to put it another way, I would have enjoyed it more if there was more emotion in the book, if Eilis had fought harder, if there had been more passion, more drama.

It was like an Eastenders plot line being read on the BBC news.

Colm Toibin may be a very talented writer, but it’s just not the style of my choice.



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