I’ll admit I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump recently. As I don’t have a full-time job yet, I’ve been aiming to read one or two books per week. However, it hasn’t really worked out. I’ve gone days without reading any books, which is so unlike me. Okay, so I did have 154 episodes of Gilmore Girls to watch in less than three months, plus I’ve been attending a number of interviews, but still! Anyway, I finally got round to reading Brooklyn, so here are my thoughts:
It is Ireland in the early 1950s and for Eilis Lacey, as for so many young Irish girls, opportunities are scarce. So when her sister arranges for her to emigrate to New York, Eilis knows she must go, leaving behind her family and her home for the first time.
Arriving in a crowded lodging house in Brooklyn, Eilis can only be reminded of what she has sacrificed. She is far from home – and homesick. And just as she takes tentative steps towards friendship, and perhaps something more, Eilis receives news which sends her back to Ireland. There she will be confronted by a terrible dilemma – a devastating choice between two worlds.
Brooklyn is a quick and simple, yet surprisingly powerful, read. It focuses on a small-town girl called Eilis Lacey, who has lived in Ireland all her life. One day, Eilis is offered the chance to move to the US, and although reluctant at first, she seizes this opportunity, since there is a lack of jobs in Ireland, and even fewer men.
“Eilis had always presumed that she would live in the town all her life, as her mother had done, knowing everyone, having the same friends and neighbors, the same routines in the same streets. She had expected that she would find a job in the town, and then marry someone and give up the job and have children. Now, she felt that she was being singled out for something for which she was not in any way prepared.”
After a rocky journey crossing the Atlantic, Eilis finally arrives in Brooklyn. The young woman is greeted by Father Flood, who arranged the whole trip, and is introduced to Mrs Kehoe, who runs the boarding house where Eilis will be staying. Eilis becomes acquainted with her fellow boarder and then begins her new job at a department store. Receiving letters from her sister Rose makes Eilis feel homesick, so she decides to take a course in bookkeeping to occupy herself in her free time. She also ends up falling in love with Tony, a young Italian-American who she meets at a dance. Following a tragedy back at home, Eilis has to choose between moving back to Ireland or starting a new life in America with Tony.
Overall, I really liked Brooklyn, although I do feel that Toibin ended it rather abruptly. Toibin has painted a vivid and realistic picture of immigration and life in Ireland and America during the 1950s. The plot flowed smoothly and there was plenty of romance. Eilis is a likeable protagonist. She is quiet and obedient, and prioritises her family. I found it easy to resonate and sympathise with her, especially when she is homesick at the beginning of the book. It takes a while for Eilis to settle in, and that’s understandable – she’s never left Ireland before, and she comes to Brooklyn only vaguely knowing Father Flood.
Brooklyn is a delightful and emotional coming-of-age story that will be enjoyed by anyone who loves historical fiction.
Have you read Brooklyn? What are your thoughts?