Published: 29th April 2009
Started reading: May 26
Finished reading: June 2
Trigger warnings: Sexual content, racism
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.
I rarely watch a film adaptation before reading the book, but that is what happened with Brooklyn. It made for a slightly different experience to normal, given that I knew most of the essential plot before I started. However, that took very little away from my overall enjoyment of the book, for it is a marvellous piece of storytelling.
The story follows Eilis, a young Irish woman who moves to New York, leaving her family and everything she knew behind. She begins a career and falls in love with a man called Tony, but then she receives devastating news that forces her to make an agonising decision about where her future lies.
Throughout the book, I was struck by how almost every sentence carries an extraordinary amount of meaning. There are many lines where a couple of well chosen words help to convey a greater degree of emotion or atmosphere, thus making it an increasingly powerful read.
This is particularly noticeable when exploring the relationship between Eilis and her mother, and how it develops over time. I found it very impactful, and with each turn of the page I could not fail to be impressed by the masterful storytelling, such is the detail and depth with which most aspects of the plot are executed.
One of the few problems I had was with the pacing. Some parts of the book felt drawn out, while others were a little rushed and could probably have done with being slightly more developed. The writing style is not very engaging, but that does not stop it from being effective.
Despite the somewhat detached writing style, Toibin succeeds in making Eilis a likeable character and a very decent protagonist, even if at times she lacks a little personality. Her innocence and politeness made her easy to connect with, and the story itself represents a superbly drawn character portrait.
Most of the other characters were fairly well developed, in particular Eilis’ family and Mrs Kehoe. I would have liked to find out more about Jim Farrell, as he becomes very central to the plot later on in the book and I did not feel like I knew much about him.
To summarise, I found this a powerful and sophisticated piece of storytelling. It has a relative simple, though multi-layered plot that explores several interesting themes. The writing was mostly great, if a little inconsistent in terms of pace, but it was a really good read. I can also conclude that the film (which is excellent, by the way) is very faithful to the book!
This was an impressively written story with a well constructed plot. For the most part, a very good read.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐