REVIEW: Brooklyn, Colm Tóibín

Monday, 22 January 2018

Eilis Lacey has come of age in small-town Ireland in the years following World War Two. Though skilled at bookkeeping, she cannot find a job in the miserable Irish economy. 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, a blond Italian from a big family, slowly wins her over with patient charm. He takes Eilis to Coney Island and Ebbets Field, and home to dinner in the two-room apartment he shares with his brothers and parents. He talks of having children who are Dodgers fans. But just as Eilis begins to fall in love with Tony, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her future.

Admittedly, I went into Brooklyn expecting the same thing that I got from the film: a love triangle, but one that not only focussed on two warring romantic interests, but instead the love that Eilis had for both her home country of Ireland, and her new home of Brooklyn. The film became renowned for discussing themes of indecision, alienation and the loss of identity, and ended up being nominated for three Academy Awards back in 2015.
Unfortunately, this version of Brooklyn just couldn’t match up to that. Believe me, it is not often that the I believe that the film is superior to the book, but it would be impossible to draw any other conclusion when it comes to Brooklyn.
The book failed hopelessly to encompass the isolation that is often felt by immigrants, or indeed by anyone who has ended up a place that isn't the one in which they grew up. Ignoring the all-too-common idea that you become too much of one place to feel ever comfortable where you were initially, but still too much of that one to ever consider returning home. 
The book had none of this conflict. The pull Eilis felt back towards Ireland only entered the story at around the 70% mark, and the way that she went about navigating the indecision was, frankly, fucking awful. Neither Brooklyn nor Ireland, nor the love interests they represented, were drawn as particularly compelling or one that the reader could see leading Eilis to a happy future, and this entire aspect (AKA the most important aspect) of the book came off as rushed and haphazard. 
Moreover, I am seriously starting to consider the possibility that the author forgot that he was supposed to include this conflict - I mean, maybe he left his notes for the second half of the book somewhere and found them too late in the writing process? That could happen, right? Because, that is the only reason I can think of to explain why the entire final third of this book was so fucking hollow and awful. 
So, my final verdict? Don’t bother with the book and instead go and check out the fabulous Saoirse Ronan act her arse off in an OUTSTANDING adaptation. Because I am sure that even the author probably likes it more.

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