Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

Scribner May, 2009

A review copy was provided free by the Amazon Vine program.

I have not read Colm Toibin's other books––Blackwater Lightship or The Master––both of which were apparently shortlisted for the Booker Prize, but going by the reviews on Amazon, those who did read his other books, and enjoyed them, found Brooklyn to be a disappointment. I thought it a pleasant enough story, more akin to something your immigrant mother or grandmother might tell you, with the caveat that it all turned out for the best. Only, like a story Grandma might tell, the story of Eilis Lacey, who leaves her small town in post-WWII Ireland to find work in Brooklyn, lacked the depth and tension to hold my attention through 262 pages.

Having not read his other books, I can only speculate that part of Toibin's problem might have been taking on a female POV, though other male writers have done this quite well. Here Toibin seems to only skim the surface. He tells us what happened, but brings to it no depth of emotion. We meet a wide range of characters, especially in the bording house where Eilis lives, but we don't get to know any of them well, including Eilis herself. Threads are begun, then dropped, as when Eilis screws up the courage to approach her Jewish law professor, who turns out to be a Holocaust survivor. From the conversation I thought he might become a rival of Eilis's Italian boyfriend, but the man and the thread simply disappear. Same with when Eilis's boyfriend Tony reacts sadly to the story. I expected there would be something about Tony's war experiences, but, for all we know, neither Tony nor his older brother were in the war.

Which brings me to my second major criticism––much of this simply did not ring true. It is unlikely that Tony's Italian family, particularly his mother, would be so welcoming to his Irish girlfriend even if she did take the time to learn to twirl her spaghetti (I'm Italian, born in 1953, I know these things). It is even more unlikely that, in the 50s, a young Irish Catholic woman who gave into a night of passion with her boyfriend, would so easily have her guilt assuaged by one confession with an unusually open-minded priest and the fact that she wasn't pregnant.

All the tension comes in the last 30 pages or so, and I will say, at that point I kept reading to find out what Eilis would do. It made an interesting choice.

I certainly wouldn't say I disliked this book, but I can't say I liked it either––at least not enough to highly recommend it. However, if you like a simple, fairly happy tale––beach season is on it's way––this could definitely be read in one sitting.

1 comment:

Kathryn Magendie said...

Stopping by to see what books are here! :)