Review: Brooklyn, Colm Tóibín

Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the hard years following World War Two. When an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor Eilis in America — to live and work in a Brooklyn neighborhood “just like Ireland” — she decides she must go, leaving her fragile mother and her charismatic sister behind.

Eilis finds work in a department store on Fulton Street, and when she least expects it, finds love. Tony, who loves the Dodgers and his big Italian family, slowly wins her over with patient charm. But just as Eilis begins to fall in love with Tony, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her future.

I fell in love with Brooklyn when I watched the movie adaption a few years ago. The film’s exploration of the themes of home, finding new homes, and adapting to change, completely captivated my heart and I’ve been obsessed with it (and Saoirse Ronan) ever since. So I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to read the book!

Tóibín’s style is so easy and comfortable – a no-nonsense approach to storytelling – and it really felt nice to sink into a story I was already familiar with. Eilis’ confusion and heartbreak was just the same, as were the vivid depictions of vibrant 1950s Brooklyn paralleled alongside sleepy smalltown Ireland.

The funny thing was that Eilis seemed so different in the book to the film, and while I remembered her as feisty and independent when Saoirse played her, mirroring my own wonder at finding another country home, in the book she seemed so cold, passive and, well, dare I say it? annoying.

In the film she merely flirts with the idea (and person) of love interest Jim, clearly viewing him as a nostalgic could-have-been from her past, in the book she nearly throws away everything she has with husband Tony for a fling he may never find out about. Call me boring, but those are not the morals that originally drew me to Eilis with such intensity and fervour.

Despite the discrepancies between book and film, I still thoroughly enjoyed the book and really appreciate both the characters that Tóibín has created, and the way he has brought them to life.

Brooklyn will forever hold a dear place in my heart, but perhaps on this occasion I can pronounce the rare judgement: I liked the film better than the book.

For my original review of how much I loved the film of Brooklyn, click here.

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