Hardcover, 262 pages
Published May 5th 2009 by Scribner (first published April 29th 2009)
1439138311 (ISBN13: 9781439138311)
Eilis Lacey, Father Flood, Mrs Kehoe, Rose Lacey, Antonio “Tony” Giuseppe Fiorello, , Jim Farrell
Enniscorthy (Ireland) Brooklyn, New York City, New York (United States)
Man Booker Prize Nominee for Longlist (2009), The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award Nominee (2011), Costa Book Award for Novel (2009), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Fiction (2009)
I can think of very few times when I liked a movie better than the book, but this is one of them. Where the screenwriter and director and actress succeeded, the author failed. Hollywood took Toibin’s story and created a charming character in Eilis, a girl whose endearing kindness made us love her; this from the author’s one-dimensional character who either did not feel emotions or would not reveal them. We are given, by Toibin, all the vapid details of her life but not her reaction to them, and although we want to connect with this girl, we are not allowed to do so. When she leaves the dance with Tony and he asks, for the first time, if she will go with him again next week, we don’t get elation, we don’t get intimacy or sexual tension, we don’t recognition that someone likes us and is willing to risk rejection for us. We get: “Eilis realized that this invitation would mean that she could go to the dance without having to take the feelings of any of her fellow lodgers into account.” What? Seriously? What is perhaps most disquieting is the praise heaped on this book by the literary establishment. The publishing industry is an embarrassing clutch of inbred New York literati who stand as self-appointed gatekeepers while keeping company with a complicit establishment of editorial critics. As long as they keep reminding each other of their brilliance and superiority, all is well.
It is infuriating to read how Toibin’s writing in Brooklyn is “spare” and has “remarkable power,” etc. This is utter nonsense. Shame on you all. While some of Toibin’s other work may achieve these heights, Brooklyn most certainly does not. The writing is not “spare,” it is simply simple. Juvenile. Sophomoric. Something you’d expect to get from a second-year English-lit student. It has a “See Spot run” sort of quality, as if the writer couldn’t decide if he was writing a children’s book or an adult novel. There’s nary a well-crafted, insightful sentence to be found. Toibin seems to have forgotten the concept of authorial irony and the subtleties of narrative that flow from such irony, the enjoyment it evokes for the reader. There is an unending train of “she thought”s and “she felt”s and “she knew that”s even though we Think we Know what she Felt without being told at every turn. The ending, if you can get there, is well done.
But a good ending does not justify the means when it comes to a novel. See the movie instead.