by Colm Toibin
For some reason I’m not sure of, I’m drawn to novels set in Ireland or containing Irish characters. That really was the only reason I bought this book on one of my browsing forays at Barnes & Noble; I didn’t even know that there is now a film out based on this novel.
Set in post WWII Ireland and New York, this is the story of young (twentyish? Her age is never specified) Eilis Lacey, the youngest of a passel of children in a family whose home is Enniscorthy, Ireland. The brothers have all left home, the father has died, and Eilis lives with her older, glamorous sister, Rose, and their aging mother. Somehow it is decided between Rose and Mrs. Lacey that Eilis will move to America; they foresee opportunities for her there that are probably not possible in her small hometown. The arrangements are all made without anybody ever asking Eilis how she feels about it, but being the compliant, people-pleasing young woman she is, she makes no protest, and off to New York she goes. Once settled in a boarding house for women in Brooklyn, and after a brief bout of severe homesickness, Eilis begins to find her way in her new surroundings.
Of course she meets a young man – that comes as no surprise. Their relationship moves rather quickly, and when Eilis receives tragic news from back home in Ireland, Tony convinces her to make an impulsive decision that will have lasting consequences.
Eilis travels back in Ireland to tend to her family in the wake of their loss, intending to stay for a month and then return to Brooklyn and to Tony, but she soon finds comfort in the familiarity of home and in the arms of another man.
I enjoyed this novel, although it didn’t dazzle me. I actually found the first half or so rather sedate, if pleasantly readable. Things don’t really pick up until Eilis goes back to Ireland, and what ensues then left me cringing, muttering, “Oh no … this can’t end well …” On some level, though, you almost can’t blame Eilis for what happens; it all seems somewhat out of her control – her move to Brooklyn was decided and arranged without her input, and the relationship with Jim Farrell once back in Ireland is something that was, to some degree, orchestrated behind her back. Eilis is in some ways a bit of flotsam, swept this way and that by a current beyond her control.
In the end, the reader is left to figure out for themselves how things work out; I appreciate that sort of ending.
Brooklyn is a nice little novel; I’ll probably see the film if only because it looks like a beautifully done period piece.