Guest blogger: Carine McGinnity, Contracts Executive
Spoiler alert, proceed with caution!

Brooklyn, Colm Toibin, Two Roads book club

Sitting down to a lovely picnic in the park and sipping Pimms, the Two Roads Book Club discussed Brooklyn by Colm Toibin.

We were all interested to read Brooklyn due to the fact that it has received an abundance of praise: it won the Costa award in 2009 and most reviews rave about the book and pin Toibin as one of the best Irish writers today.

Brooklyn is set across Ireland

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and New York in the 1950s. It tells the story of Eilis, a young woman living in the small Irish town of Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford (where Toibin was born), who finds herself on a path to New York in search of work. The book, brimming with explicit detail, follows her life in Ireland, her journey on the ship to New York, her work in a department store there, her life in a boarding house, and eventually, a ‘dilemma’.

Flowering tree, Regents Park, Two Roads Book Club, Brooklyn, Colm ToibinA lot of our discussion centered on Eilis’ character, which most of us found to be quite passive and almost vacant. We all found it hard to decipher whether she was actually in love with Tony or Jim, or whether she was content to follow whatever path was laid out for her by others, as she appeared to have no longings or deep-rooted desires. To give Eilis some credit and context, we did acknowledge that this was how young women, especially in Ireland, were in the 1950s; it was a conformist era when the omnipresent Church had a very controlling and domineering presence in Irish households, as evidenced by the ubiquitous Father Flood character and the attitude of Eilis’ mother.

For me, the token Irish of the group, I love novels set in this period. However, Eilis was more a symbol of an oppressed nation, living her life as she was told to, rather than a feisty young woman who, when given the opportunity, went to New York to make a life for herself that she would never have been able to in Enniscorthy. Eilis very much came across as a drifter, lacking in any sort of conviction to steer herself off a pre-destined path. There were times when I felt like manhandling Eilis to try and instill some emotion in her!

It becFlowering tree, Regents Park, Two Roads Book Club, Brooklyn, Colm Toibiname apparent when talking about the elements we felt were lacking in Eilis’ character, that we would have been more engrossed in her sister Rose’s life. Toibin whets the reader’s appetite with tidbits of Rose’s character, but never divulges any intimate details. We found we would have loved to have known more about her and why she had given up her life to look after her mother and let Eilis pursue a life in America. We even found that we would have liked to know more about Eilis’ siblings in England and whether there was any drama surrounding their departure. Alas, Toibin fails to pursue anything which is not merely incidental to Eilis’ life.

We all praised Toibin for his ability to get inside a woman’s head and detail a woman’s thoughts with such accuracy.

OnPims, Two Roads Book Club, Brooklyn, Colm Toibine fact that rang true for everybody was the disparity between the cover, the cover copy and what was contained within. The glamorous cover alludes to a far more fast-paced and exciting story and the cover copy builds up to, what should be, a story of suspense that made us all eager to find out what Eilis’ great ‘dilemma’ was – but, what was this ‘dilemma’? We all struggled to identify, due to Eilis’ lack of emotion, if she found herself in a dilemma at all.

Summing up, we asked whether we would recommend Brooklyn to a friend – the general consensus was yes we would, and some of us were interested in reading his previous works. On average we scored Brooklyn 2.5 stars out of 4.

One thing we all agreed on – there is definitely no better way to spend a Friday afternoon than in the sunshine sipping Pimms and discussing books.

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