Eilis Lacey is quite content with her life in Ireland, living with her mother and sister. She doesn’t yet have a steady job, but she’s studying bookkeeping and hopes to get one when there are jobs available. She could go to England to get a job, like her three brothers, but she wants to stay at home. Unfortunately for that goal, her sister Rose meets with an Irish priest and decides that Eilis should try her luck in America. Eilis is secured a job as a shopgirl in Brooklyn, purchased sea passage and lodgings, and promised courses to continue bookkeeping. She finds that her life in Brooklyn is completely different from her life in Ireland, and she must grow and change to adapt in the city. When she’s called home suddenly, she then faces a choice; which life is the one she’ll stick with?
I loved this book. Loved it. I read it in a day and really hated all the times when I had to put it down. Others might call it slow, or quiet, but I just adored the development of Eilis’s character, the many discoveries she made, and how effectively I could put myself in her shoes. I loved the contemplative way in which the book was written; there’s hardly any action and all observations are third person but still from inside Eilis’s head. It made it so easy to really feel for her and wonder where her life was going and what she was going to do next.
I may also be a bit biased about this but I just adored the setting. I could easily imagine my own grandparents living a life similar to Eilis’s (although they were Italian, there are some Italians here), which brought a true personal touch to the entire book for me. I loved the descriptions of the subway, the streets, the houses, the churches, and especially Coney Island. Most of it probably looks the same now but it’s the attitude that matters here. Even Eilis’s job in the department store was absolutely fascinating for me, especially when the store decides it’s time to desegregate and starts to stock pantyhose suitable for all colors of women. Eilis, of course, is judged the only girl kind enough to serve the colored ladies, which gives us an up close and personal idea of what a real girl in her situation may have felt when she discovers that black women are the same as white women.
Finally, I absolutely adored the emotional conflicts that Eilis suffered and I felt that they were perfectly, beautifully true to life. I was amazed that Tóibín could get so inside a young girl’s head. I especially related perfectly to her feelings once she’d gone away from Brooklyn to visit Ireland – it does feel like a dream when you change countries like that, it’s almost too easy for it to become a distant memory in comparison to real life. I just couldn’t get enough of how real she felt to me, how her life is actually quite ordinary but somehow feels universal and significant. The world is changing, Eilis is changing, and the book depicts it all in such an understated way. I adore books that do that.
I loved Brooklyn and I really think it’s catapulted itself right to the top of my 2010 reads. I can’t recommend it highly enough and I will definitely be reading more by this author.
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