Long Island by Colm Toibín


I was happy to learn about this book, a follow-up to Brooklyn, 20 years later. Not only do we get to revisit Enniscorthy, Ireland and learn what’s happening with Eilis and others, there is a casual mention of Nora Webster, the main character in the book of that name. Brooklyn is set in the 1950s, Nora Webster in the mid- to late 1960s, and Long Island in the early 1970s. I truly love reading about these characters and enjoy the slow accumulation of knowledge of their lives.

The story begins when a man turned up at Eilis’s door on Long Island to announce belligerently that his wife’s baby expected in August was fathered by Eilis’s husband Tony and he will deliver the baby to her house to be brought up. Eilis lived on a cul-de-sac surrounded by the houses of her Italian husband’s two brothers and their parents. The Italian family is not happy with Tony, but when Eilis announced she will not be bringing up this baby, the family united behind the matriarch who declared she will bring up the baby.

One aspect of the characters in this book is that they all seem inclined to keep secrets that are inevitably going to be revealed.

One of Joe’s brothers did not live on the cul-de-sac or work in the family plumbing business; he is a lawyer in Manhattan. One day when Tony speculated on whether Frank would find a nice girl to marry, Eilis told him Frank will never marry because he told her he is gay. Tony made her promise that she would never reveal that to anyone again.

Unhappy with the family’s decision about the baby, Eilis made her first visit to Ireland in 20 years. She didn’t tell her mother about the baby about to come into their lives. When her teenaged son and daughter came to Ireland, they did tell their grandmother.

Eilis secretly renewed her connection with Jim, the pub owner, who she had left abruptly 20 years before when she returned to Brooklyn. Jim had recently become secretly engaged to Eilis’s best friend growing up, Nancy. We watch the slow-motion train wreck of Jim declaring his love to Eilis just at the time Nancy was negotiating to buy a plot of land away from town where she and Jim would build a house after they married.

Nancy and Jim believed that their affair was unknown by the village. She was a widow with three grown children and had a chip shop in the village. She visited Jim in his apartment above the pub late at night and yet they thought no one knew.

My current thinking is that the outlandish self-deception that the characters displayed with their lies was a more exaggerated form of what we all do from time to time. Too many times we act as if what we want at a particular moment is possible if we just pretend it is so.

I love reading about the world that Toibín has created.

Colm Toibín, Long Island, Scribner, 2024, 294 pages (I listened to the audiobook). Available in the public library.

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