Reviews of Brooklyn (2009)
Review by mojosmom (2010-02-13)
Eilis Lacey is a young Irish woman, living with her widowed mother and her sister in post-World War II, economically depressed Ireland. When a visiting priest from the United States suggests that she could find work in there, she passively accepts her family's decision that she should emigrate. Initially, she is very homesick, but slowly learns to adjust to her new life and her new independence. Having fallen in love with an Italian (shock!), she suddenly finds that she must return to Ireland to deal with a death in the family. There, she must confront her family's expectations for her future, and well as her own.
As with all Tóibín's books, this one deals primarily with the themes of privacy and distance, particularly distance between family members. It isn't so much that people want to keep secrets, as that it seems not to occur to them to share their feelings or to discuss their lives.
As usual, also, Tóibín writing is perceptive and thoughtful. His descriptions of Eilis' seasickness on the journey over and her homesickness are unerring. "She was nobody here. It was not just that she had no friends and family; it was rather that she was a ghost in this room, in the streets on the way to work, on the shop floor. Nothing meant anything. The rooms in the house on Friary Street belonged to her, she thought; when she moved in them she was really there. In the town, if she walked to the shop or to the Vocational School, the air, the light, the ground, it was all solid and part of her, even if she met no one familiar. Nothing here was part of her. It was false, empty, she thought."
Though this is not my favorite of Tóibín's books, I would certainly recommend it. (A not-great book of Tóibín's is better than most writers' best.)