Thursday, December 3, 2015

Book Review: Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

Pages: 262
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: March 5, 2009
Source: Personal Copy
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the hard years following World War Two. When an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor Eilis in America -- to live and work in a Brooklyn neighborhood "just like Ireland" -- she decides she must go, leaving her fragile mother and her charismatic sister behind.  Eilis finds work in a department store on Fulton Street, and when she least expects it, finds love. Tony, who loves the Dodgers and his big Italian family, slowly wins her over with patient charm. But just as Eilis begins to fall in love with Tony, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her future.  By far Tóibín's most instantly engaging and emotionally resonant novel, Brooklyn will make readers fall in love with his gorgeous writing and spellbinding characters."

 Eilis Lacey has spent her whole life in the same small town in Ireland with her mother and her charismatic older sister Rose.  Rose is successful, beautiful, outgoing and everything that Eilis thinks she isn't.  Eilis has high hopes though and is studying bookkeeping and accounting, which lands her a mediocre job at a local store. Rose wants more for her sister though and through her connections, she puts Eilis in contact with an Irish priest that lives in Brooklyn. He wants to sponsor Eilis and get her a job at a Brooklyn store all while she studies at the local college. This sounds too good to be true! So, even though her mother is sad to see her go and Eilis feels guilty about leaving Rose behind to take care of their aging mother, she takes the plunge and goes to Brooklyn.  After a few treacherous nights at sea, she makes it there in one piece and starts over at a boardinghouse filled with other Irish girls as well as her new job in Brooklyn.  As Eilis grows and learns, she meets new people and one boy catches her eye. But what about her life back in Ireland? Can you really ever say goodbye to home? Colm Toibin's Brooklyn is a quiet sort of reflective coming of age tale that really tugged on my heartstrings. I loved Toibin's take on the immigrant experience as well as the emotional journey a person must undergo when he leaves his family and homeland behind.

I really loved Eilis from the beginning in Brooklyn.  She is quiet girl in Ireland and not one that would garner much attention. She has always done the right thing and is a bit of a homebody.  This all changes once she moves to Brooklyn. It's a whole new world filled with new people and new experiences, which only guarantees that Eilis will change as the story unfolds. I loved her as she became more confident and sure of herself. She's determined to educate herself, which I greatly admired. The second half of the novel was tough to read at some parts, because I thought Eilis was making some bad decisions, but I guess that is what growing up is all about...especially when you are stuck between two very different worlds.

Once she meets Tony things change for Eilis even more in Brooklyn. Tony is a baseball-loving Italian who lives with his large rambunctious family and needless to say, she falls head over heels for him.  Their love story follows a traditional path that is until Eilis has to return home to Ireland.  Then things get complicated and that's all I'll say for fear of spoilers.

Toibin does a fantastic job of bringing the immigrant experience to life. I could make many personal connections to this novel as some of my relatives were immigrants and specifically my great-grandparents came from Ireland.  So, the personal connections really added to my enjoyment of this novel.  Also, Toibin's writing style is so very unique.  It's hard to describe, but I found it really refreshing. And if you are worried that a man can't portray a female accurately, that is not the case here. Toibin does a brilliant job bringing Eilis to life.

The ending of Brooklyn really made me think and although it felt abrupt, I understood why Toibin ended it there.  Tobin definitely had me thinking about that ending for days and Eilis' future.  Now I can't wait to watch Brooklyn on the big screen! 



  1. I think this is the ideal read for my mother in law Christina, her parents immigrated from Ireland and she still has a lot of family over there. I'll give her a heads up about the abrupt ending though, they're never fun even if they make sense:)

    1. She would love it then, Jenny! The movie was outstanding as well. Thanks for visiting!

  2. Now I know what to pick up at the bookstore today! Thanks for this, Christina!

    1. I can't wait to hear your thoughts on it, Joy! Thanks for visiting!

  3. Nice review! I definitely thought the first half of the book was better than the last part. In book group we talked about Toibin and his ability to write from the female character's point of view but we did think that Eilis lacked emotion. There is distance between what we are told she feels and what the reader experiences and I can't help but think that if a woman had written the novel that distance wouldn't be there.

    1. Good point, Christina! That may be true, but I think overall, Toibin did pretty well portraying a woman. I think you'll like the movie a bit more, because Eilis definitely feels more/expresses more emotion. Thanks for visiting!

  4. I saw the movie last night and now want to read the book. In particular, I was puzzled that Eilis would go through a civil ceremony - surely a Catholic girl of this era would know that did not constitute a marriage in the eyes of the Church? I would think the nice priest and her mother would be as shocked by that as by the fact of the marriage. However, I guess it would have been easier to dissolve if she had decided to stay in Ireland.


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