Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Brooklyn - Colm Tóibín

Summary: "One of the most unforgettable characters in contemporary literature" (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette), Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the hard years following World War Two.  When an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor Eilis in America, she decides she must go, leaving her fragile mother and her charismatic sister behind.

Eilis finds work in a department store on Fulton Street, and when she least expects it, finds love.  Tony, who loves the Dodgers and his big Italian family, slowly wins her over with his patient charm.  But just as Eilis begins to fall in love, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her future. (Summary from book - Image from

My Review:  When Ian McEwan's Atonement came out, people went completely gaga over it.  It won several book awards and TIME magazine listed it as one of the top 100 greatest English-language novels since 1923.  They even turned it into a movie that won a few Academy Awards.  So, I figured with that many accolades, I should probably read it.  And you know what?  I hated it.

Brooklyn is a New York Times bestseller, winner of the Costa Book Award, twice shortlisted for the Booker Prize, made it onto a bunch of other "best" lists, and was made into a movie that was nominated for an Academy Award.  So, I figured with that many accolades, I should probably read it.  And you know what?  I hated it. Well, perhaps, hate is too strong a word.  I didn't care for it.

There were aspects of Brooklyn that were very well done and others that fell flat.   I enjoyed the book's setting -- 1950s Ireland and Brooklyn, NY -- which felt lush, authentic, and reminiscent of the times.  However, the plot moved too slowly for my taste.  Like, imperceptibly slow.  I waited half the book for anything remotely notable to happen and the pace never picked up afterwards. Initially, Eilis intrigued me as a character, but, eventually, she came across as rather unfeeling, especially in regards to either of the romantic interests that cropped, and her emotions felt forced and robotic.  Add to that one disturbing dressing room scene (where Eilis is felt up and stared at) that seemed to come out of left-field and serve no purpose in the story and it was all just...thoroughly unsatisfying.

The story was divided into four parts and I gave it my all for three of them. At the beginning of part four, I decided to skim the rest of the way and I was glad I did.  Aside from the aforementioned setting, it didn't get better.  Not for me, anyway.  Those who prefer an evocative setting, a tortoise-like pace, and a subtle plot might find something to enjoy.  Me?  I'm second-guessing whether I should even watch the movie.

My Rating: 1.5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  I can't remember any profanity, but there was one non-graphic instance of unwanted groping in a dressing room, a graphic first-time sexual encounter, and some mention of erect body parts.

UPDATE:  In case you are wondering, I did watch the movie and I liked it more than the book.  It's so rare that happens, but there you have it.  The story is still a quiet one, but the pace was much better, the sexual stuff was toned down or omitted (still PG-13 though), and Saoirse Ronan was a fantastic Eilis.  The ending had a much more satisfying resolution than in the book, without changing the overall outcome.

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