Brooklyn by Colm ToibinMay 15, 2010
I created this post just about a month ago, when I first finished reading this lovely novel. But for some reason, I never had too much too say about it. Perhaps I’ve read so many gushing reviews that I didn’t feel like I had much to add to the conversation. I do feel like I could talk for a bit about some particular things, but all of that required some spoiler-filled sentences, and I usually don’t like to do that here. However, since it seems like so many bloggers have read this one, I’m going to go ahead and write about the ending of the book. So if you haven’t read Brooklyn yet, please go read one of the million other excellent spoiler-free reviews!
I loved this novel–right up until the last 40 pages or so of the book, the part titled “Part Four,” but more likely remembered as the part of the book when Eilis returns to Ireland after the death of her older sister. One of the things I liked best about the book was watching Eilis (by the way, I seriously wonder how one is supposed to pronounce her name. I feel like I should know, having a Gaelic name myself, but unfortunately I have no idea) develop her self confidence as she spent time in America. It was so heartwarming to watch her grow up, take classes at night school, start to seriously date somebody, and finally feel comfortable talking with the other boarders. She really did become more independent and more confident as she was forced to make her way in America. But then, when she returns to Ireland, she seems to have entirely lost that confidence. Once again, I felt frustrated by her interactions with her family and friends. She lets so many people push her around. And when she started to become intimate with that boy, I was so angry! It felt as though she was doing that just because it was what was expected of her. I wish that she had the courage to use her newfound independence and confidence even while she was living in her old surroundings! In the end, I’m glad that she decided to return to her life in America, because she seemed so much more comfortable there, even if it did take her quite a while to adjust to it at first.
Of course, the very reason that I feel such intense happiness when Eilis changes for the good when she arrives in America (and such intense concern and frustration when she returns to her old self when she returns to Ireland) just demonstrates what amazing characters Toibin has created in this novel. A review on the back of my edition calls Eilis “one of the most unforgettable characters in contemporary literature”, and I wholeheartedly agree. Sometimes I feel like she was actually one of my friends that just moved away, to Long Island, and I have this catalog of memories of her. It’s weird. But wonderful. This is definitely in the top few books I’ve read so far this year.