Friday, June 19, 2009

Brooklyn: A Novel by Colm Toibin

Brooklyn: A Novel
By Colm Toibin
Blackstone Audiobooks, 2009
7 hours 37 minutes
Narrated by Kristen Potter

It's 1950's Ireland and jobs are scarce. Eilis Lacey's brothers have already left for England, and the decision has been made to send Eilis to America. Her sponsor, a parish priest in Brooklyn, has lined up a department store job and a boarding house room. Rose, her gainfully employed older sister, will remain at home with their widowed mother. Eilis has only the vaguest notion of life in America:

" It was a long journey across the Atlantic, she knew, at least a week on a ship, and it must be expensive. She had a sense too, she did not know from where, that, while boys and girls from the town who had gone to England did ordinary work for ordinary money, people who went to America would become rich." page 26

Though Eilis struggles, she gradually builds a life for herself in Brooklyn. A couple of years pass before a family crisis calls her back Ireland. Eilis must then choose between remaining in Ireland or returning to the life and love she has found in Brooklyn.

My thoughts:

Upon reading a summary, it would be easy to dismiss Brooklyn as just another immigrant story. But if given the chance, Toibin's writing, so rich with feeling, will draw you in. His simple, elegant, spare prose could easily have kept me listening to a book twice this length.

The reader, with her captivating Irish accent, was excellent, too. I was transported to 1950's Brooklyn - the sights, sounds, even the smells came alive. At times, I became very frustrated with Eilis and her passivity. Too much just 'happened' to her. I wanted her to take a stand, make a decision...something! Of course, in the end, she had to.

Why has it taken me so long to discover Toibin's work? The Master has been on my wish list forever and, a couple of years ago, I even brought The Blackwater Lightship home from the library. Unfortunately, it was due back before I had a chance to read it. You can be sure I won't make that mistake again!

Have you read Toibin? Can you suggest what to read next?

My rating: a solid A


  1. I haven't read this author yet. It sounds like it might be a good listen on an audiobook too from your description. And I've had books sitting here to be read forever and keep putting them off and then finally read them and think "Why did I wait so long!"

  2. While most of his works set in his home country of Ireland, The Master is a detailed account of writer Henry James's life. Toibin even emulates James's embellished prose style, rendering the book a bit more challenging to read, but effort would be well rewarded.

  3. So many wonderful things have been said about this book and your wonderful review adds to the number. I'm going to have to make note of this title for down the road.

  4. Jenners - I think we all have those 'why did we wait so long?' authors and books. I'm glad I finally go to Toibin!

    Matt - Maybe I'll read The Blackwater Lightship next to get more of a feel for Toibin's style. Then I can appreciate his James emulation even more.

    Darlene - Our lists just keep growing, don't they?

  5. I wish my library had this on audiobook! I am planning to read it, but I'd love to listen to it. Great review.

  6. Carrie,
    I think you'll like it either way - audio or print. Toibin is a very talented writer!

  7. Uh oh. This sounds like it'd be a great for me -- and I'm glad to know that the audio is well done. I'll add to the wish list.

  8. It sounds like we had pretty similar thoughts about this one. I'm going to give The Master a go next and see how I go with that. From what Matt says it sounds like a bit of a different book in many ways but I am hoping that Toibin's writing will get me through.

  9. Beth F - I know you enjoy audios, and this is definitely a good one!

    Karen - I'll probably try The Blackwater Lightship next, but since I like James, The Master is also on my list. I'm glad I finally had a chance to read Toibin!

  10. One criticism I read was why did he choose such an unpronounceable name for his heroine. The person felt it put people off to not know how to say it. In fact, this is one of the reasons I can't read sci-fi or fantasy. I cannot bear the names. :<) Funny, isn't it, what puts people off certain books or types of writing. I suspect your frustration with the character nonetheless was true of those girls in those situations at that time.

  11. Nan,
    Eilis is not a name I have ever run across before. Without the audio, I would have had no idea how to pronounce it...and just listening I had no idea how to spell it! Luckily, I found it on amazon. I do think you're right though, her passivity was probably typical of her place and time.


Thanks so much for taking the time to comment! Be sure to check back, I always respond. Due to a recent increase in spam, all comments are moderated.


Related Posts with Thumbnails