“Brooklyn” by Colm Tóibín

I really like the Academy Awards and keep an eye out for movies that may get Oscar attention. In order to do so, I pay special attention to a few blogs, other award shows and festivals, and try to keep an eye out for prognostications. I do this because I like to get to Oscar night having seen a good portions of the films, especially those nominated in the acting categories and the best picture contenders. I don’t only do this because I like the Oscars, but also because my tastes tend to align themselves often with the types of films that get nominations: dramatic films with captivating performances. One film I kept noticing so far this year (which has yet to come out) is one called Brooklyn. It seems like when it does get released it will garner a lot of attention and accolades. I found out that it is also based on a novel. Another thing I tend to like to do is read a book before watching a movie. I don’t do it with every genre (like thriller, horror, fantasy, or sci-fi), but if a movie is based on a more literary novel I make sure to read the book first. It turns out that this particular movie is based on a novel by an author I read for something else by, and did so a few short weeks ago and reviewed it on this sight earlier this month: Colm Tóibín, whose The Testament of Mary I really enjoyed and admired. I immediately procured myself a copy of the novel, which shares the same name as the movie it inspired, and got to reading it.

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The book is a lovely and quiet tale of a young woman’s life in the 1950s. I cannot think of many male authors who can capture and accurately portray a female point of view as well as does Colm Tóibín. His abilities are transcendent and every single word he writes rings true and moves the reader to the point where we are putty in his hands. Eilis Lacey lives in a small Irish town with her mother and her older sister Rose. Her life is quiet and mundane, made up mostly of visits with friends, the odd night out dancing, and work once a week in a shop owned by a cantankerous older woman. Eilis’ world is turned upside down when a priest visiting from the United States offers the young woman the opportunity to find employment abroad and the opportunity for a life that Ireland would not be able to provide for her. At the encouragement of her sister, Eilis departs for Brooklyn and leaves Europe behind.

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Colm Tóibín

In the United States Eilis deals with homesickness, some culture clash, and a sense of alienation she has never felt before. Her home life in a house shared with an elderly owner and several other young women proves a source of discomfort for our protagonist, but at work as a department store employee she seems to thrive, even though it is not a challenging or particularly interesting profession. Eilis takes night classes for bookkeeping and begins attending dances at her local parish where she meets Tony. This is where the novel begins to take shape and we see the ways in which Tóibín renders the internal struggles of the young women in vivid and punctual ways. To say more would detract from the beauty that is the novel, both in story and in prose. Suffice it to say that it was a lovely read, and at times I found myself chuckling if not laughing out loud, proving that the author is not only a gifted storyteller, but he is able to use humor at times in an incredible way that actually elicits a reader’s response, and is not only acknowledged but has an involuntary reaction. I now have read two books by this author and have loved both. He is quickly becoming someone I respect and admire, and will definitely be eventually making room for more of his works on my bookshelf in the future.

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