In my continuing project of reading the Americian Library Association Notable Books list, I finished up the novel, “Brooklyn” by Colm Toibin a few weeks ago. It’s the story of a young Irish woman named Eilis who leaves unpromising propects in Ireland to a more engaged life in Brooklyn, just after World War II.
This book takes its own sweet time to gain momentum. At a certain point early on, I began to wonder whether this was simply a book where nothing would happen. Eventually, however, it started moving along, and it got me hooked. I was sorry when it ended.
Eventually Eilis becomes interesting. In Ireland, her weekend work wasn’t especially engaging, and the young men had little interest in her. Once in America, she stands out by doing a good job and minding her own business, both at work and in the boardinghouse where she lives with several Irish women. She enrolls in business school. Things become especially interesting when she becomes attached to a young man.
But then, she is called back to Ireland, and must decide where her home truly is, and face her own lack of clear intention. Of course, by then she is a worldly American, with American self-confidence, fashion, and style. The men give her plenty of attention.
Toibin’s pacing still strikes me as odd, although I can see that the “nothing ever happens” pace of the early book underscores Eilis’s lack of prospects in Ireland. What he does especially well is to observe the social interaction between people, and to get inside Eilis’s thoughts and feelings. Sometimes I had to wince on her behalf, she seemed not to see what was coming.
I’d recommend this to fiction readers who enjoy coming-of age stories, themes to do with immigration and cultures colliding, and stories of women who strike out on their own.