Sunday, 18 October 2015

Last chance to read the novel before the movie release

Tender, sincere and beautifully understated.

Title: Brooklyn

Author: Colm Toibin

Tags: #ireland #norawebster #nickhornby

Discovered: Imagine. Colm Toibin: His Mother's Son (BBC)

Where read: (In part) Shoreditch Grind, Old Street 

The Word's Shortlist view:

"Some people are nice and if you talk to them properly they can be even nicer"

I've picked this book up any number of times over the last few years but never got around to actually reading it until watching Alan Yentob's brilliant film about Colm Toibin for Imagine. Plus with his new book Nora Webster receiving rave reviews this seemed like the right time to finally commit. 

Colm Toibin's Costa Novel Award winning book tells the story of Eilis Lacy, a young girl who escapes the hardship of 1950s Ireland in search of a new life in the USA. The dredge of colourless Enniscorthy in Southern Ireland is brilliantly portrayed as a cage trapped with family commitment and few job prospects. On the other hand, Brooklyn is a dream of bright lights, colour and hope. 

As the story develops, and Eilis settles in to a new life of work and study in Brooklyn, there is a foreboding sense that she won't fully shake off her former life in Ireland. Before long Eilis meets a young Italian plumber, Tony, and begins a romance played out over a beautiful Summer on Coney Island. Local priest Father Flood is protective and caring but didn't expect girls like Eilis to find their own independence in Brooklyn, having brought them over for one purpose only. 

Colm Toibin's depiction of this new girl coming of age on the other side of world is tender, sincere and beautifully understated. Elias makes choices that her mothers generation in Ireland could never have conceived.  

Out of the blue Eilis receives some tragic news from home and must return to Ireland to be with her family. This is the major plot point that goes on to define the novel and the duality which all emigres face. For most the journey across the Atlantic was one way leaving a bereaved family at home. For Eilis she must make the return journey to make a decision about her new life with Tony and her family commitments in Eniscorthy. 

Many Irish families will have an Eilis in their family which makes this book personal and intimate - the decision she must make is about more than her own family, this is a decision about a generation and about a time. This is a great read that explores the schizophrenic life of emigres forced to return home. 

With a film in the making we can expect renewed interest in this novel. Read the novel now and enjoy the movie later in the year.

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