Saturday, August 22, 2009

Brooklyn - Colm Toibin

The long-list for the Man Book Prize 2009 was annouced a few months ago: I was disappointed in myself that I had not read any of the books on the list. I decided to start with Brooklyn as I truly enjoyed Toibin's fictional biography of Henry James, The Master. Brooklyn tells the fairly common story of a young single girl in Ireland who is sent to America in the early 1950s in search of a job and a better life. I wasn't sure I would be that interested in reading this story yet again, but I was immediately taken in by Toibin's writing. It reminded me of James Joyce's short story "The Dead.". I particularly enjoyed the scene of Eilis's first Christmas in New York. She has no family, and so she agrees to help out her local parish and serve meals to the poor and elderly Irish in the neighborhood. The group sings old songs from the homeland, and Eilis is both homesick and content in her new surroundings. Toibin captured the scene perfectly. I almost ripped the pages out of the book to save in a scrapbook. As expected, Eilis ultimately meets a man in Brooklyn. This doesn't happen until about two thirds of the way through the book - no longer is Eilis making her way in this strange land - earning a living, going to school, getting lost and finding herself - instead she is becoming subservient once again, subject to the whims and desires of another (which is how she found herself in Brooklyn in the first place). I thought the book took a turn for the worse as this point, making me wonder if that was the story Toibin wanted to tell - that in this land of promise and hope, in the end all a young woman had was one choice - a choice that meant leaving her family and all that is familiar behind to please another. It left me sad, but it stayed with me. And that, I think, is a testament to Toibin's well-deserved Booker nomination.

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