Author: Colm Toibin
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I was aware of the movie before the book. I read rave reviews, and it has Domhnall Gleeson, so I knew it was going to be on my List Of Movies To Eventually See (I am terrible at going to see movies in theaters for the most part). I’m not sure when I realized it was based on a book, a tidbit I filed away until Valentine’s Day. My husband and I aren’t necessarily the most romantic–okay, I’m not, so for us Valentine’s Day involved Deadpool, our favorite little cafe, and a trip to my wonderful local indie bookstore. Yay books! I saw Brooklyn on the shelf, debated it, moved on, went back, and picked it up. This is a gem of a little book and I’m so glad I bought it.
I consider this a “tea and Sunday afternoon” book. This isn’t going to be the most exciting or fast-paced thing to read. It’s a slow burn of a book, focusing more on Eilis and her journey to freedom and adulthood than on the love triangle (which is opposite of the feeling I got from reading about the movie), which I really enjoyed reading. Eilis lives in a smallish town in Ireland, with no real prospects. Her father died, her three brothers have moved to England, and she lives a very staid life with her mother and elder sister. Jobs are hard to come by, and the one she gets she doesn’t really like. Her friends are focused on dances and boys, neither of which are really appealing to Eilis. When an opportunity to travel to America–to Brooklyn–comes up, her sister pushes her into it, even knowing that that dooms her to a life of caring for their mother. What a sister, eh?
So Eilis moves to New York, living in a boarding house for girls in Brooklyn. She gets a job at a local department store and starts taking night classes in bookkeeping. She is promised a move into the office if she passes, a step up from being a sales girl. And, of course, there’s the love triangle the move seems to play up. She meets an Italian boy, Tony, who helps her realize her love for her new city and slowly wins her over. When tragedy calls her home to Ireland, there’s Jim, who shows her what life at home could be like if she stays. Eilis is left to make a decision about which life she would rather have.
If you’re thinking to yourself, now, TK, this book doesn’t sound super exciting–well, it’s not. But it is beautifully written. It explores the themes of feminism, of choice, of prejudice in terms of race and heritage. Of being a young woman in a time when things were just on the cusp of changing, of wanting to be independent but still follow the rules of society. This is a comforting book, something you can curl up with on an afternoon when there’s not much going on and you want to escape for a few hours. It’s a slow-burn of growth and maturity, and an absolutely lovely read.