Review: Brooklyn: a novel

With my parents growing up in Brooklyn in the mid-40’s/50’s, this book was a must read for me. I was interested to see if the novel resembled any of the stories my parents have shared from growing up in Brooklyn.

This is the story of Eilis, a young woman, who lives with her family in Ireland before immigrating to America. We follow her through her everyday life, working in a local store, small town gossip and the importance of status in town, socials for singles and family dynamics.

Eilis is moving through life, reading this book you sense that she is not leading a fulfilling life but she’s doing what is expected of her. Everything changes when her older sister (also single and living at home) arrives home one day letting Eilis know that she has negotiated for Eilis to move to Brooklyn. The rest of the book deals with Eilis building a life for herself thousands of miles from home, the decisions she makes and the consequences.

I don’t want to give the story away by sharing too much… the central themes include Irish society, living abroad and finding ones personal identity. I couldn’t put this book down, wanting to see how it would end. I didn’t expect the ending, which is another plus! If you like books like Olive Kitteridge, The Wednesday Sisters, The Help and Sarah’s Key you will love this one.

I was able to find another bloggers review, click here to read Compulsive Over Reader’s review.

I wasn’t able to find any information about the author online other than his bio as listed in Wikipedia.

Links of interest:LA Times review
UK Times online
NY Times review
BWAV rating of this book: 5 stars
Type: Fiction, 272 pages, Hardcover

Small towns everywhere can seem like stage sets in the theater of respectability. Sidewalks are washed, the facades are painted, the performers go to church in their Sunday best. But in fiction, such towns fester with whispery gossip, small betrayals, hidden hypocrisies, petty tyrannies, and calculated arrangements of everything from jobs to marriages. The residents could be living in Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, or in Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford, in the Republic of Ireland.

Enniscorthy is a real town (today's population: about 3,700), located on the River Slaney, dominated by St. Aidan's Cathedral. It's the homeplace of the fine Irish novelist Colm Toíbín and has inspired much of his fiction. But in his previous novel, The Master (2004), Toíbín gave us, to high critical applause, a portrait of Henry James and lived imaginatively in London, Paris, Rome, and Florence. In Brooklyn, he returns to Enniscorthy.

"Brooklyn" is a modest novel, but it has heft. The portrait Tóibín paints of Brooklyn in the early '50s is affectionate but scarcely dewy-eyed; Eilis encounters discrimination in various forms -- against Italians, against blacks, against Jews, against lower-class Irish -- and finds Manhattan more intimidating than alluring. Tóibín's prose is graceful but never showy, and his characters are uniformly interesting and believable. As a study of the quest for home and the difficulty of figuring out where it really is, "Brooklyn" has a universality that goes far beyond the specific details of Eilis's struggle… click here to read the complete review