Friday, December 10, 2010


Colm Tóibín is a writer that I have been meaning to read. I foolishly started two large novels (700+ pages) and I thought I'd take a break from them with a smaller volume. I saw this at the library, and I gave it a try - in one long sitting.

Eilis Lacey is a young woman in 1950's Ireland, where there are no jobs and no visible future. At the behest of her fashionable sister, Eilis leaves her village for Brooklyn, where she gets a job in a department store, studies to become a bookkeeper, and eventually falls in love. When tragedy strikes back home, Eilis must figure out what to do about her new and old life.

Tóibín's prose is very sparse and very distant. He lets us into the protagonist's head a little, but not enough that we understand the decisions that she makes. We get the bare minimum of motivation.

The sparseness of the prose extends to descriptions and such. Tóibín barely sketches the physical shapes of his cast. It forces the attention of the reader onto the events and the significance of said events.

Brooklyn is a good novel. I wouldn't say a great novel. What's missing from creating a great experience is a sense of scale. At no point was I ever transported to 1950's New York; Tóibín doesn't sustain immersion. However, I was enthralled the entire time. I was more interested in "what happens" rather than "what's going on".

A lot of the serious literary stuff is all between the lines. There are a few instances where we are treated to a glimpse into Eilis' head, but it's not fully truthful. The book grasps for greatness at these moments, but they are too far and between.

I enjoyed Brooklyn, and read it in one sitting. I thought it was an enjoyable experience, but too focused on plot than serious significance. On the whole, a good read, slight but good.

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