Brooklyn by Colm Toibin was the first book I read this year. I had never heard of it nor the movie but it was prominently displayed on the “Critically Acclaimed” shelf at Barnes & Noble so I decided to give it a shot.
The story centers around a young Irish woman named Ellis Lacey whose life takes her from her native home to Brooklyn, New York in the 1950’s. She experiences the challenges of homesickness and being a foreign country without a support system – like family. As she begins to adjust to American life, she finds characteristics within her personality that she truly thought she was without. Without giving away too much, the novel is a beautiful coming of age narrative. Yes, there’s a love story and then there’s a love triangle. There are questionable situations and hilarious anecdotes. Overall, wonderful.
Brooklyn, aside from being a tale about a girl, is also a wonderful cultural piece about New York and Ireland in the 1950’s. The cultures were wildly different at the time and Ellis’s struggle to balance her Irish upbringing with her American freedom is worth noting. As Americans, we often view the 1950’s as restrictive and would not often say women were independent. That is until you examine Ellis’s life in Ireland. I was excited to experience her empowerment with her.
Also worth noting is Colm Toibin’s writing style. This is your official warning that it’s different. His writing is best described as conversational. The novel reads as if you’re sitting by the fire hearing a long story. Dialogue is not written formally. The reader often gets summaries of conversations rather than word-for-word exchanges. Every aspect of Ellis’s mood is not analyzed for the reader. Toibin assumes you know how she feels about certain experiences and leaves it to you to absorb her emotions. All of these elements lead to a very swift read. I will be honest that reading his writing was uncomfortable at first. I had never read anything like it. But, if I can get through Hemingway, I knew I could get through this. By the end of the book, I was very fond of it.
This book was recently made into an Oscar-nominated movie. I haven’t seen it yet, but I would assume the movie would have no issue respecting the book’s storyline. Regardless, this is a really nice light, quick read. Enjoy!