Review: ‘Brooklyn’ by Colm Toibin

December 17, 2016 Review 0

An interesting story historically, perhaps, but in many ways it fell short for me. Eilis is a young woman in a small town in post-war Ireland, a place with few prospects. Her brothers have gone to England to find work, and her glamorous older sister, Rose, has a job and a social life and a worldly wisdom Eilis is entirely lacking. So when Rose arranges for Eilis to go to New York, with a job and accommodation organised by a helpful priest, Eilis meekly goes along with it. It’s never very clear to me exactly why Rose does this, especially given the later revelations of the story, but then there wouldn’t be much plot if she hadn’t, so I’ll go along with it.

The section dealing with Eilis’s journey to America and settling into life in Brooklyn is quite interesting, but it’s curiously flat. We never get any real inkling of a personality in Eilis. She drifts along, doing whatever is suggested to her. The priest asks her to help out at the Christmas charity, when she’s homesick the priest helps her start evening classes, then an Italian man takes an interest in her. Eilis goes along with all of it, without, apparently, a thought in her head beyond pleasing other people.

And then, when she’s summoned back home to Ireland, she does that too, leaving behind the nice Italian boyfriend and drifting into another relationship altogether. And this is where I lost patience with her entirely. For a good Catholic girl, she doesn’t seem to have too many moral scruples about two-timing. So the drama at the end seemed completely unnecessary to me, and could all have been avoided by a little openness. What was the point of all the secrecy, anyway? Why wouldn’t Eilis tell her mother about the nice Italian boyfriend, who might have been only a plumber but was still a Catholic boy. Too silly for words, and I just wanted to shake Eilis.

Nicely written and the historical details were interesting, but I had no time for a character who was so self-effacing she was almost transparent. Three stars.

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