Dan Sandman

46: Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

In Adventure, Books, Fiction, Romance on 15/11/2013 at 12:00 pm

Brooklyn by Colm ToibinI found this well-thumbed secondhand book in a local charity shop for £1 last Friday. I wouldn’t normally have picked it up, but on the same day I had been out for lunch and it had been coincidentally mentioned. And so, believing that one should follow the unexplained rhythms of coincidence, I thought I would give this contemporary novel a punt.

In his psychologically acute style, Colm Toibin (rhymes with ‘the scene’) creates Eilis – pronounced like ‘Irish’ with an L for lollipop – Lacey, a young Irish character who emigrates to America in the 1950’s. In chronological order, in four parts without chapters, the novel describes a number of events in Eilis’s life as she moves from Enniscorthy, the second largest town in County Wessex, to Brooklyn, the most populous of New York’s five boroughs. Along the way she will become homesick, fall in love and be forced to make difficult decisions about her future.

In an interview for the BBC’s World Book Club, Toibin talks about how he wanted to take an ordinary character and dislocate her from the comforts of home to explore her humanity. In addition, he suggests that there is a secret history in Ireland of young people emigrating when times have become hard. In his quick witted and talkative way, Toibin expands on these points suggesting that today Eilis would be using Skype to plan a trip to Canada because she knows two friends who are already there.

Today there are over thirty-five million people with Irish ancestry living in America. This novel presents an intimate and realistic portrait of what it would be like for a young woman to emigrate to the states in the 1950’s. However, the book is more concerned with the subtleties of Eilis’s character than with, for example, the civil rights movement. This is perhaps because we are shown the story from the perspective of a passive young woman, with a thoughtful personality, going through an emotional time in her life and yet, because of her dislocation from home and her passivity, unable to express her feelings to those closest to her. Fortunately for Eilis, there is love for her in New York and she is eventually saved by love.

I enjoyed Toibin’s way with words which is well balanced between descriptive narrative, psychological observation and dialogue with strong screenplay potential. Indeed, Nick Hornby has already adapted the book for screen and the film version is set to be released next year staring Rooney Mara (The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo).

A good book that could generate an award winning film.


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