I know this review is a tad late, but such is life. I finished reading ‘Brooklyn’ by Colm Tóibín last week and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Having seen the movie prior to reading it, I was familiar with the story and feel that the movie followed the book very well. If anything the movie inspired me to read the book since there are some added events that aren’t in the movie, which is typical for most book to film adaptations.
*There are some spoilers in this review, so if you haven’t read ‘Brooklyn’ yet, proceed at your own risk*
‘Brooklyn’ is about a young Irish woman named Eilis (pronounced Ay-lish) Lacey, who lives in the small town of Enniscorthy, Ireland in the 1950’s, with her older sister, Rose, and her widowed mother. Being the youngest of two brothers and a sister, Eilis looks up to her sister Rose the most. Rose is 30 and unmarried and holds an office job in town. I just want talk a bit about how wonderful of a character Rose is. Here she is, in 1950’s Ireland, with a career and an independence that reflects on her personal life choice of not marrying. Eilis mentions that Rose does date sometimes, but ultimately is happy just being single. I loved that! Go Rose! Okay, now back to Eilis, who, almost finished with her bookkeeping classes, is in need of a steady job. Rose then helps Eilis find a part-time job at the corner store, run by the town gossip widow Miss Kelly. However, little does she know, that Rose is about to give Eilis an opportunity that could change her future.
Rose reveals to Eilis that she’s been in contact with Father Flood, who is an Irish priest who used to live in Enniscorthy, but now lives in Brooklyn, New York. Rose informs Eilis that Father Flood could help Eilis get a job at a department store in Brooklyn and find her lodgings in a boarding house, run by a woman named Mrs. Kehoe. Eilis is a little perplexed by the idea of just up and moving to America, but after careful consideration and weighing the pros and cons between living in her little village where everyone know everyone’s business for the rest of her life and moving to America, Eilis realizes that Rose only wants what’s best for her and agrees to go to Brooklyn. Soon enough, Eilis boards the ship to America.
Once in Brooklyn, Eilis is introduced to Father Flood and Mrs. Kehoe and begins her new job at the department store on Fulton Street in Brooklyn. Eilis feels homesick and finds herself crying often at work. She thinks about leaving for home when Father Flood offers to have her enrolled in bookkeeping classes at Broolyn College. Eilis agrees and soon finds that Brooklyn and America aren’t as daunting as she once thought. We then see Eilis juggle work, classes, the uptight Mrs. Kehoe, and the group of gossip-fueled roommates in the boarding house. Once Christmastime rolls around, Eilis is more comfortable in Brooklyn and agrees to help Father Flood feed the homeless at his Parish hall on Christmas Day. There’s a pretty moment at the Christmas dinner when an Irish man, who Eilis had mistaken upon first seeing him enter the hall, for an exact lookalike of her deceased father, stands up and sings an Irish song that brings Eilis to tears and longs to be home with her mother and Rose.
After the holidays, Father Flood announces that his Parish will be running an Irish dance every Saturday night. Eilis is a bit hesitant to go compared to her excited roommates, but she decides to go anyway. During one Saturday night at the Parish hall, Elis notices a boy staring at her while she struggles to dance with an Irish boy. After the boy tells her he’ll dance with her later, the boy who was staring at Eilis takes the opportunity to approach her and introduces himself as Tony. They dance for the rest of the night and he offers to walk her home. After confessing to Eilis that he’s in fact not Irish, and that he has a penchant for Irish girls, Tony asks Eilis if he can take her to the dance the following week and she agrees.
The next Saturday arrives and Eilis finds Tony at the door of her boarding house and they grab a bite to eat at a diner before arriving at the dance. Tony tells her about his family and his plumbing job. Eilis tells Tony about her department store job, her classes, and her mother, Rose, and two brothers. Tony is very smitten with Eilis. I resonated a lot with Eilis and how she interacts with Tony because she is reserved but she is kind and sweet to him. After the dance Tony asks to see her again and Eilis agrees. After leaving her night class a few days later, Eilis finds Tony waiting for her and he asks her to a movie. Thus begins their regular courtship.
After a few weeks of dating Tony asks Eilis to meet his parents at his apartment for dinner and Eilis agrees. Eilis is nervous about eating Italian food for the first time and meeting Tony’s family, but you can also see that Eilis is excited because it brings her out of her shell a bit. After their dinner Tony walks her home and tells Eilis he loves her. Eilis tells him she had a nice night and that she’ll see him after her night class on Monday. Eilis is taken off guard by Tony’s sudden confession, but realizes that she also feels the same way. After her class that Monday, Eilis discovers that Tony isn’t waiting for her and begins to imagine that she hurt his feelings after not reciprocating his declaration of love, but then Tony arrives out of breath, having been tied up at a plumbing job and begins to tell Eilis about the events that kept him from meeting her on time. Eilis stops him and tells Tony that she loves him too, but that she doesn’t want him to rush her with talk about marriage or children or the future. Tony is over the moon and the moment is very sweet.
A couple of months pass and Eilis and Tony spend almost all of their time together. Eilis hasn’t told her mother about Tony in their letters and chooses to only write to Rose about Tony. She tells her about Tony taking her to Coney Island and to a Brooklyn Dodger’s game with his brothers. As Eilis and Tony become more serious, Tony begins to open up to her about his future plans to build a property on Long Island with his brothers. Tony hints to Eilis that he hopes she is with him when that happens. This brings Eilis to decide that she would like to marry Tony eventually.
When Eilis is at work, she is visited by her supervisor and Father Flooed with the sad news that Rose has died suddenly in her sleep back at home in Enniscorthy. Eilis phones her mother, upset and full of questions. Her mother informs her that Rose was sick but did not tell anyone. Eilis decides she needs to come home to her mother and arranges a month leave from work to travel back to Enniscorthy. Eilis tells Tony about her plans and he understands, but confesses he is afraid she won’t return to Brooklyn. Tony asks Eilis to marry him at in secret at City Hall before she leaves and she agrees.
Back in Enniscorthy, Eilis helps her mother go through Rose’s belongings, and is afraid her mother has found her letters to Rose that mention Tony for Eilis’ mother does not yet know about him. Eilis helps her mother with thank you notes and spends time with her best friend, Nancy, who is engaged to be married. Nancy invites Eilis to the beach with her and her fiance, George, but forgets to inform Eilis that they invited Jim Farell, whose family is well-known among the town and was not particularly taken to Eilis earlier in the novel. Jim sees Eilis as a different girl and is quite smitten with her now that she’s returned from Brooklyn, which draws Eilis to believe that she’s changed since moving to Brooklyn.
After many letters from Tony and a confrontation from Miss. Kelly about her secret marriage to Tony back in America, Eilis realizes that she doesn’t belong in Enniscorthy, she belongs in Brooklyn. This to me was the central theme of the novel. Home can be far away from where you grew up. Home is wherever you thrive the most. For Eilis, her home was truly Brooklyn. Eilis tells her mother the truth about Tony and she leaves home once again to return to him.
I really enjoyed this novel. I loved being on the journey with Eilis of leaving the familiarity of her hometown in Ireland, to her unfamiliar new life in Brooklyn. And seeing how she adapts and changes with her surroundings. When she was nervous you could feel it and when she was happy and elated, you felt that as well. I loved the romance of Eilis and Tony. Their courtship was so sweet and made me roll my eyes at boys today. (I especially liked the way the movie portrayed Eilis and Tony’s story) It was interestingly realistic to see how Eilis evolved from a fresh, young girl in a small Irish village, almost unknown to the world outside of her own, at the begnning of the story, to an independent, young woman in charge of her own destiny, by the end. This novel made me want to seek out adventure and new surroundings. I hope I get the chance to be brave like Eilis and go outside my comfort zone to live in a new place and find myself amongst the change.
– I felt that there was more Colm could have written surrounding Rose’s death.
– I would have loved to see Tony and Eilis have the proper wedding following her return to America and I would loved to have seen Eilis’ mother visit Brooklyn and meet Tony and his family as well.
-Ultimately, I’ll give this novel 4/5 stars.