Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

Colm Toibin
Brooklyn

Hmmm, this book wasn’t really for me.  I enjoyed some aspects of it, but overall I was left with feelings of annoyance at being cheated out of what I felt should have been included. However, I always bear in mind I have never written a book and always admire those who have and the enormous work they have devoted to it and the pride they should justifiably feel in their achievement, and really who am I to judge? So even though I have niggles with the book, it is all said with admiration for the author for writing it in the first place, and knowledge that my view is personal and very likely differs from others.

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin available on Amazon
 Kindle  Hardback
 Paperback  Audiobook

Hmmm, this book wasn’t really for me.  I enjoyed some aspects of it, but overall I was left with feelings of annoyance at being cheated out of what I felt should have been included. However, I always bear in mind I have never written a book and always admire those who have and the enormous work they have devoted to it and the pride they should justifiably feel in their achievement, and really who am I to judge? So even though I have niggles with the book, it is all said with admiration for the author for writing it in the first place, and knowledge that my view is personal and very likely differs from others.

My main gripe with the book was the lack of description of the emotions felt by the characters, several of the events detailed were huge and life-changing and I had expected a description of the emotions felt but it seemed to be just bare facts (more or less) with hardly any description of feelings or emotion, and what was described was done very briefly. I found this incredibly frustrating and this lack of emotional description also made me struggle to connect with the characters and care about them, as it felt like they were shut out from the reader. I’m certain the main character, Eilis, did have emotions and lots of them, but I felt they needed to be described for the reader to empathise with her and like her. I felt I didn’t know her, yet that’s not her fault, it’s the way the book was written. I can see sometimes her actions display her emotions to a degree (as with the black customers), but I think I’d have gained even more from the scenes and learnt more about her if some of her feelings were described as well as her actions. For example, I was surprised there were no details of the goodbyes to family members when Eilis leaves Ireland for Liverpool with sister Rose, she just goes with no description of her goodbye to mum, and the same when she leaves Rose, surely these partings must have been hugely traumatic for Eilis, and even if she tried to conceal her emotion from her mum and sister so as to minimise their worry and distress then I’d have expected her inner feelings to be detailed in the book to the reader. Also her entry in America isn’t dealt with, her thoughts and feelings and fears. And the ending is another example of this lack of emotional description as it just ends with Eilis on the train to the port, why not include the meeting with Tony and her feelings when she sees him, does her love come flooding back or is she resentful of him, it’s such an important scene but is dealt with using such sparse detail, and I feel this sums up the book for me in general. I wondered if this was because it’s a man writing about a woman, and he’s perhaps unable to adequately put himself in a woman’s mind? I wondered if the book should have instead been written from the perspective of one of her brothers instead, not her. Or is this all extremely accurate of behaviour in Irish women and families and relationships in that time, is it actually very cleverly depicted and I am just missing the subtlety of this? 

Memorable bits of the book for me were the horrendous sea crossing, I cannot imagine how awful that must have been, Rose’s intentions and sacrifice in sending Eilis to America, and Rose dying which was so sad and tragic, and Miss Fortini and the swimming costume, what was that about?!

At the end, I was very worried that Eilis would stay in Ireland with her mother, rather than coming back to America and Tony, I didn’t want her to sacrifice her happiness for her mother’s and I was relieved she chose to go back to America, although then I was disappointed at how grudgingly she decides to go, like she had no choice.  And I was surprised she decided so easily that she doesn’t love Tony. I felt she was quite shallow and I didn’t really like her. I tried to imagine how difficult it was for her to be torn between her mother and Tony, but she seems to drop the idea of Tony so easily and fall for Jim, and she’s hurt Jim unnecessarily, she should never have got involved with him, I didn’t like the way she behaved in Ireland with Jim, she chose to enter into a relationship with him and also hurt him as well as being disloyal to Tony. So it was the ending I had wanted, in that she went back to America, but I didn’t like the sulky and resentful way she did it, like Tony had trapped her and she had no choice. I don’t think she seemed like she particularly wanted to stay in Ireland for her mum, she just seemed to realise she could easily replace her job and husband in America with another of each in Ireland and was tempted too easily by that convenience. I’d like to have known how she greeted poor Tony when she got back to America, did she realise she did love him and they lived happily ever after, or was she sulky and distant to him, punishing him for loving her (yet again, passages I wished had been included!). I really didn’t like Eilis much, which made it difficult for me to enjoy the book!! However, is it an indication of a good book when it can rouse strong feelings (bordering on anger even!) in the reader?

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin available on Amazon
 Kindle  Hardback
 Paperback  Audiobook

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