Brooklyn -- Colm Toibin
It is very rare that I watch a movie before reading a book, if there’s a book available. It’s even rarer that I like the movie better than I like the book. Generally, the movie glosses over certain aspects while the book dives deep into the plots and characters. This book breaks the mold and the movie ends up far deeper than the book.
Let me be honest here. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin is a good book. Historical fiction can be difficult to write, and Toibin captures a snapshot of life for an immigrant in New York City in the 1950s. Eilis Lacey, a young woman from rural Ireland moves to America to make a new life. She is unfamiliar with life in the Big City. Her unease with New World traditions gives her an awkward lifestyle until she gets used to her new life.
Even in a new environment, there are certain social norms that are expected of “good Irish gals.” The girls at the boarding house go to dances with other Irish women to meet Irish young men. When Eilis falls in love with an Italian man who comes to one of the dances, it is something that neither expects.
Her sister’s sudden death takes her back to Ireland to visit with her mother. When she gets there, she is torn between two worlds. She falls back into a familiar life in her home country, almost forgetting her life in New York. Yet, she still thinks back to the new life in America and the man she loves.
Brooklyn is a good story of woman torn between her old life in her old country and her new life in her new world. It delivers the basic outline of how a life, going through an upheaval, can still find their way and overcome. It is worth the read even if the book didn’t live up to its hype.
My issue with this book is not the story itself. It stems from the writing style and its plot development. This novel is written very matter-of-factly. There is not a lot of extraneous information thrown at the reader. Basically, the author tells the story in as few words as possible. Maybe that in itself is the reason I didn’t fully enjoy the narrative. The author tells us too much of the story instead of showing up through descriptive narrative.
At the same time, the plot doesn’t grow very much. Neither do the characters. While I wanted to feel for Eilis when she moved to Brooklyn, I couldn’t. There was no emotional investment in her character by the author, and this was passed on to the reader. The plot stagnates from the beginning until Eilis returns to Ireland. The portion of the book where she is back in her hometown is the most riveting part of the entire narrative. The struggle she feels between loving her homeland and missing the love of her life is the most human part of the book.
Nick Hornby wrote the screenplay for the movie, basing his story on that written by Toibin. The movie is much deeper and more poignant than the book as originally written. Hornby built upon the strong base that Toibin wrote. It was a very good movie.
I’m not saying that Brooklyn is a bad book. I enjoyed it. However, I didn’t love it, and I thought it failed to live up to all the hype that rode shotgun with the movie. The novel offers a glimpse of the struggles faced by new immigrants coming to a strange, new world. It provides a partial snapshot of life in the middle of the 21st century.
Craig Bacon will read another of Colm Toibin’s books to see if he likes his other work better. He refuses to discount an artist after only one interaction. Stay tuned for more book reviews.