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March 20, 2015

Book Review—Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

With the premiere of the film version of Tóibín's much praised Brooklyn looming, it seemed opportune to revisit the novel in time for the release. Eilis Lacey of Enniscorthy, Ireland is offered the opportunity to work in Brooklyn, New York, in the 1950s. It is an opportunity she cannot ignore, despite meaning that she will never see her family again, who are more than likely the engineers of this move. While in Brooklyn, Eilis finds first love and a new life, but after a tragedy back in Enniscorthy Eilis must choose whether to return to Ireland or live her new life.

The language is clear and simple, with matter-of-fact descriptions of events through Eilis’ thoughts. The plain style suits the character and the world, the restrained, frugal voice reflecting the economically stagnant Ireland but also the often unrealized potential of America. It frames Eilis’ slow acceptance of her new life, the caution, the openness, the angst, the loss. But there are also many comedic passages in Brooklyn, with only the final act bearing more heavily on loss and worry. But the characters who exercise the humour are often the vulnerable, those who stand to lose the most if the humour is ended, and as the final act progresses, the humour is drained from Eilis until she has to abruptly face her future.
Deceptively plain and straightforward, Brooklyn is compelling, addictive, and moving.


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