Brooklyn: a Novel by Colm Toibin


Audiobook.  This is the story of Eilis (pronounced Eilish) from the village of Enniscorthy in Ireland in the 1950s.  Her father has died, her brothers must leave home to make a living, her sister Rose works to support herself and her mother, and Eilis is sent off to Brooklyn in the hopes she will make her way there.  The story of her crossing the Atlantic, settling into a boarding house for Irish women, working in a department store, and coping with homesickness is told with careful deliberation and loving detail.  Almost everyone she encounters in America is kind to her — the priest who knows her family in Ireland, her employer, the landlady (most of the time), her Italian boyfriend, and her instructors in the night course she takes. 

As with my of reading The Master by Toibin, I found that I had to take breaks from the quiet intensity of the book.  How does he do that?


As she plans a visit to Ireland after the death of her sister Rose, her boyfriend convinces her to secretly marry him to insure she will return to him.  Along with the great sorrow she feels on her return to Ireland, she experiences a triumph in that people see her differently with her new clothes and new view of herself.  Jim, who was rude to her before she left, now works hard to win her heart.  She tells no one of her marriage and lets the relationship develop and begins to see the life she made in Brooklyn as unreal.  It is only when someone in the village reveals she is friends with the Brooklyn landlady that Eilis tells her mother the truth and leaves immediately.  Although the end seems rather abrupt, the story is satisfying and the character of Eilis is pleasingly complete.  She is appealing if infuriatingly passive, and her difficulty in giving up the triumph of her return makes sense. 

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