Book Review: Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

Rating: 5 out of 5.


I was not expecting to like this book as much as I did since it is out of my norm for reading genres. I do like historical fiction, but its usually still packed with action, mystery, intrigue. This is not an action-packed book and to be honest not that much exciting really happens, but the main character is so relatable and the author has such a great way with storytelling that I turn the pages fast enough.

The story follows Eillis, an Irish girl who, at the encouragement of her glamorous sister, immigrates to America in the 1950’s to work in a clothing store and go to college to become a bookeeper, which is her dream. While there she stays at a boarding house run by an Irish woman, filled with a few Irish women who also work. The first half of the book is running through her everyday events. She goes to work, she gets set up to go to school and studies law and bookeeping, she goes to the Irish church’s Friday night dances, she has encounters with her fellow boarders, and she thinks to herself a lot about her new life and how homesick she is for Ireland. This is a feeling I can definitely relate to. I always thought the idea of moving somewhere new and starting over was great so I did it often in my 20’s. I’ve lived in Hawaii, California, Florida, Texas, Virginia, Chicago. And each time I was overcome with homesickness for the little town in northwest Indiana where I grew up and spent my whole young adult life plotting my escape from. But then in the second half of the book Eillis meets Tony, a fun, energetic, sweet Italian boy who takes a shining to her. They date for over a year and then she gets terrible news from home and has to go back to Ireland. Tony says they should get married before she goes and they do in a quiet private ceremony at the courthouse basically and she goes. While she’s home in Ireland everything feels familiar and she quickly falls back into her old routine and then Brooklyn starts to feel like a distant dream. This was something I could also relate. The old saying is true unfortunately, “out of sight out of mind”. And that’s just what happened to Eillis while she was away from her new husband in Ireland. Her friends coerce her to go to the beach with them and a boy she particularly didn’t get along with. Turns out he was nervous when they first met years ago and has been thinking about her and he actually really likes her and is sweet. In the movie this character is played by Domhnall Gleeson, a screen sweetheart of mine, and I always kind of wished she’d stayed with him and married him even though it would have been wrong just because I like Gleeson. I won’t spoil the entire book, but it was really good!

Tóibín’s style of writing is simple and easy. He doesn’t bog you down with a lot of detail and he doesn’t waste time on anything more than it requires. He seamlessly skips ahead in Eillis’s story days or weeks or even seasons if it’s clear nothing really happens in those times he hasn’t already described before. There is a sexy scene in there, two actually; one where she and Tony are at the beach in Coney Island and one later at night in her room (you get the picture). So I would maybe take that into consideration for teens, but his style of writing these scenes was interesting to me. It was almost technical or medical in his usage of the proper terms and how he didn’t go too into detail about the romanticism or feelings of the characters while it was going on. He wasn’t flowery in his description as if it were a romance novel. It was merely a narrator describing what was going on and I kind of liked that.

This is one where I saw the movie first, a long time ago when it came out, forgot about the movie and what actually happened in it, and then read the book so it felt both new and familiar. I highly recommend both, though!

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin, Paperback | Barnes & Noble®

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