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130 of 137 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars quiet, old-fashioned and brilliant
Evocative, sparse, yet deeply emotional, the books of Colm Toibin have become some of my favourites. He writes beautifully about landscape, about the weight of the past on the present, but most importantly about people and their feelings. He is particularly good at showing family relationships and how they work.

This new book was no disappointment. in the...
Published on 5 May 2009 by emma who reads a lot

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128 of 146 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Understated. Overrated(?)
This book came to me highly recommended by a couple of people, so I was looking forward to reading it to see what all the fuss was about and I had not read anything by Colm Toibin before either so I was doubly curious.

I was not exactly disappointed by the book, indeed I enjoyed reading it very much, but I would say I was underwhelmed by it.
It is quite a...
Published on 13 May 2009 by N. Byrne


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130 of 137 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars quiet, old-fashioned and brilliant, 5 May 2009
By 
emma who reads a lot (London) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Brooklyn (Hardcover)
Evocative, sparse, yet deeply emotional, the books of Colm Toibin have become some of my favourites. He writes beautifully about landscape, about the weight of the past on the present, but most importantly about people and their feelings. He is particularly good at showing family relationships and how they work.

This new book was no disappointment. in the 1950s, Eilis Lacey moves from small-town Ireland to America to work in a department store. In Brooklyn, everything is different: you can even keep the heating on at night, she writes home, with excitement. Her culture shock on arrival is so beautifully written, you feel every moment of her disorientation and terrible homesickness.

But then just as she seems finally to be settling in America, she suddenly must return home, and the gap between her two lives is revealed. Anyone who has ever had an intense experience abroad, then returned home thinking 'it seems like a dream now' must identify with Eilis. It's so delicately done, but with enormous power.

I would love to know what others thought of the ending, as that was my only reservation, but I will not discuss it here as I hate plot spoilers. Please do read this book, it's quiet, old-fashioned and brilliant.
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37 of 41 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'it was merely a shadow at the edge of every moment of the day and night', 8 Aug 2009
By 
Purpleheart (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Brooklyn (Hardcover)
`Eilis Lacey, sitting at the window of the upstairs living room in the house on Friary Street, noticed her sister walking briskly from work. She watched Rose crossing the street from sunlight into shade, carrying the new leather handbag that she had bought in Clery's in Dublin in the sale'.

Each of the four sections of Colm Tóibín's latest novel, Brooklyn, starts with setting Eilis (pronounced Aylish) in her environment - either in Enniscorthy (Toibin's own home town) or in Brooklyn. Set in the 1950s there is little work available in post war Ireland. Eilis's three brothers have already left for Birmingham and there is little prospect of Eilis following in her sister's footsteps and finding a career in her home town. Rose, her mother and Father Flood from Brooklyn start to plot a new life in Brooklyn for Eilis.

The novel is written from Eilis's point of view. She is very passive - things happen to her and she doesn't always grasp their significance till later. For example, just before she leaves for Brooklyn it strikes her that her leaving will impact her sister's life - `Eilis's going, which Rose had organised so precisely, would mean that Rose would not be able to marry'. The important things are not discussed in this family - even when emigrating, though they care for each other. I thought this was very real to the time and place.

It is in the small details of Eilis' life that Tóibín is successful in this novel - the preparation for black women to buy stockings in Bertocci's, the dance in Ireland, the dances in Brooklyn with new boyfriend Tony, the baseball game Tony takes her to and Eilis' wrenching homesickness when she gets letters from home.

I've been a fan of Colm Tóibín's since The South, The Heather Blazing (Bloomsbury Classic) and The Blackwater Lightship. I liked this novel too, finding it an interesting exploration of the possibility of two different lives in different countries. Tóibín is excellent on how our environment shapes our experience and how when we return to one place the one we've left can seem distant and unreal `...everything about him seemed remote. And not only that but everything else that had happened in Brooklyn seemed as though it had almost dissolved and was no longer richly present for her'.

The glamour of having been in America in 1950s Ireland is also well drawn. On Eilis' return everything which had seemed difficult two years before now seems straightforward.

I don't think this is his best but it's an atmospheric and memorable novel - ****1/2
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brooklyn - Colm Toibin, 27 Mar 2013
By 
Daniel Day (St Albans, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Brooklyn (Paperback)
Eilis Lacey is a young woman growing up in small town Ireland in the 1950s. After the death of her father, she lives with her mother and older sister and is treated as the baby of the family, living in the shadow of her more confident sister. They're not desperate but money is tight - Eilis has no job in a stagnant economy. When an opportunity presents itself for Eilis to move to Brooklyn, her mother and sister quickly decide she should take it.

The novel charts her uncomfortable journey there, her arrival in a strange and busy land and subsequent homesickness. We are shown a curious mix of the familiar (a boarding house full of fellow Irish emigrants with old fashioned attitudes) and the unfamiliar (different races, Italians, exotic fashions, liberal attitudes and extreme weather), creating the image that although thousands of miles from home, some things are constant and the world is a curiously small place - a theme which becomes relevant later in the book.

In time, Eilis thrives in Brooklyn - quickly building a good reputation at work, enrolling in college, passing exams with flying colours and getting a boyfriend. Finally allowed freedom, she begins to gain confidence and independence, and we see her personality develop.

After 18 months in Brooklyn, a tragedy sends her back to Ireland - a place which now seems a bit alien. Although her family and friends see a change in her, her independence is not yet fully fledged and it starts to be eroded - once again she appears to lose control of her own destiny. Her time in Brooklyn begins to feel like a strange dream that she can't share with anyone. When the time comes for her to decide which world to choose, she procrastinates and is ultimately forced in her decision by a turn of events outside her control.

I loved this book from start to finish. It's a beautiful portrait of a very real character in two very real environments, sensitively told and with themes that most readers can relate to. Anyone who has travelled abroad, lived overseas, or even returned home from university for the first time will be able to relate to the idea of experiencing something personal which their friends cannot share. The novel is not fast paced but doesn't linger on episodes unnecessarily - the reader is given the world as Eilis sees it and allowed to draw their own opinions without endless passages of narrative explanation. It is a book which comes gently to the boil - beautifully told by a masterful writer.

I've read some of the reviews on here and certain criticisms come up frequently. Firstly, there's criticism that this is an overly simple book with a basic structure - a bit of a lazy and unimaginative novel from an author whose reputation is safe. Similar things are said about "On Chesil Beach" by Ian McEwan and "The Sense of an Ending" by Julian Barnes - both of which I also loved. Yes, it is a simple book with a simple plot and simple structure, but for me its beauty is in its simplicity, the credibility of its characters, the way it portrays complex emotions, the locations and era it captures and the themes it effortlessly introduces. All without the need to throw in unnecessary complexity and flourishes.

The second criticism is about the character of Eilis. It always bugs me when someone gives a book a bad review because they don't "like" a character. I agree that Eilis is often frustrating - no more so than in the final 50 pages when I wanted to shout at her or throw the book across the room - but the reason she's so frustrating is because she's so believable. To like or dislike a character, it means the author has created them strongly enough to drive an emotional response from the reader, and that can only be a positive comment. Eilis is naïve, flawed and far too inclined to take the path of least resistance - but she's always consistent, credible and real, and like all great characters I will miss her story now I have finished it.

In summary, I think this book deserves the awards it has won - it's beautifully written, simple writing at its best, and it will stay with me long after I've finished it.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A quiet novel that makes a big impact, 25 Aug 2009
By 
Eric Anderson (London, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Brooklyn (Hardcover)
Brooklyn follows a young woman named Eilis as she travels from her Irish home town to New York in the early 1950s. Almost without asking, her family decides that she should move to America because she is more likely to find a good job there. Eilis struggles to adjust at first, but eventually finds her way and settles down beginning a romance with an Italian-American named Tony. Eilis brushes against social issues such as the Italian neighbourhoods versus the Irish neighbourhoods in NYC, the gradual integration of African Americans into white society, her female supervisor's latent lesbianism and her Jewish night school teacher who escaped the WWII concentration camps. But she never experiences any great conflict with these issues. Toibin manages to do something very special in this humble, quiet novel. There isn't a great deal of action. The language the author uses is engaging but simple. The characters are interesting but not extraordinary. What the author does is immerse you totally in Eilis' daily life and the small but important decisions she makes along the way which lead up to a devastatingly brilliant ending where the protagonist must make a serious heartrending choice. The lead up to this final section is very subtle so it took me by surprise and completely engrossed me.

What Toibin does so well is describe Eilis' relationships with those closest to her. He conveys how deep bonds can exist between family members even if nothing is said. The love and responsibility these characters feel for each other is expressed through small actions like writing each other letters about superficial things or sorting through old clothes together. He approaches scenes filled with a tremendous emotional intensity with a very light touch so that you almost don't realist the importance of what's happening until it's over. This is when Eilis' superficially simple life takes on a magnitude of importance.
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128 of 146 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Understated. Overrated(?), 13 May 2009
By 
N. Byrne (Ireland) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Brooklyn (Hardcover)
This book came to me highly recommended by a couple of people, so I was looking forward to reading it to see what all the fuss was about and I had not read anything by Colm Toibin before either so I was doubly curious.

I was not exactly disappointed by the book, indeed I enjoyed reading it very much, but I would say I was underwhelmed by it.
It is quite a simple and straight forward story about the experiences of a young woman who emigrates from Ireland in the 1950's to Brooklyn in New York. It is an experience shared by thousands, if not millions of Irish people over the years so there is a lot to relate to here for many people, including myself, especially for those from the generation of the main character Eilis. The story likewise is quite simply told, it is not showily overwritten but is instead rather understated and for me this was the major plus point of the book. I would imagine it captures very well and nostalgically the atmosphere of that time for people of a certain age, women especially. Toibin is quite skilled at drawing female characters, especially the girls that Eilis shares a boarding house with in Brooklyn, and when Eilis returns to Ireland after being in Brooklyn for a couple of years he captures very well the conflicting feelings inside of her at being home after being away, something many an emmigrant can sympathise with.

That said I do have to say this wasn't quite the 'outstanding' novel I was expecting. Very competent and controlled, yes, but it didn't blow me away like I was lead to believe. I actually found the character of Eilis quite irritating after a while. She seems to go through the whole novel in a very passive way, it's all 'Eilis thought this, but then thought this but then decided to see what happens' and she seems almost swept along by feelings she does not really give much thought to. of course this is most probably Toibin's deliberate characterisation but its hard to care for and respect a character that seems to have no mind of their own. I found myself waiting for something devastating and dramatic to happen that just didn't arrive, even though towards the end it felt like the narrative was winding up to this.

By the time I had finished reading this novel, I almost shrugged my shoulders as if to say 'Is that it?' It seems to me a lot of fuss over nothing that spectacular. An enjoyable, almost light read, but nothing spectacular. Many more people, I think, could write something as good if not a whole lot better based on their actual experiences of emmigration if only they kept it simple like Toibin. And the fact that this book is already being touted as a future Booker nominee can only lead me to speculate it is because it is written by a certain Colm Toibin, who is a well established figure in the literary world, and not on the actual merits of the novel itself.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Love, Loss, 7 Jun 2013
By 
prisrob "pris," (New England USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Brooklyn (Kindle Edition)
Colm Toibin is one of my favorite authors. His stories of Ireland and its history and heritage have given me a keener sense of that land and its people. His new novel, 'Brooklyn' is a veer from his usual path. I have a sense that this novel may be the beginning of an Irish/American tradition.

Eilis Lacey is a young woman living a sheltered life in a small Irish village, Enniscorthy. The period of time is the 1950's and there are two classes the working and the well to do. Eilis has several brothers and an older sister, Rose. Her mother is widowed and keeps the family running. The brothers have gone to Dublin to seek their fortune. It is Eilis' sister, Rose who is keeping the family fed and clothed. She is a secretary and earns a good living. Eilis is very good with numbers and a visiting priest from the United States is asked if he can assist Eilis to find a job. There is nothing available for her in her village, but Father Flood has many contacts in America. And, much to Eilis's surprise Father Flood has offered Eilis a chance for a new life and a job in the United States.

The promise of a new life in America brings many changes, but Eilis copes with her new found friends in a rooming house and her job as a sales girl. She studies accounting at night and writes many letters home. All is as it should be. Rose assists Father Flood with meals for the homeless and attends dances at the Catholic parish. It is here that she meets a young Italian boy, Tony. Love blooms and Eilis's life takes a new turn when tragedy strikes and she is summoned home. Eilis's response to these new life's changes may be surprising.

Colm Toibin has a knack for fleshing out the characters he writes about, and he did this brilliantly with Eilis and the Lacey family and friends in the small Irish village. However, the same cannot be said of the characters in Brooklyn. There was much more that could have been said about Tony and his family. Eilis's time at Brooklyn College and her studies of tax law seemed to fall apart. This is a nice story about a young Irish girl who finds love in a new land. I expected more than this.

Recommended. pris rob 06-06-13
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ETHNICITY AND CULTURAL HERITAGE, 2 Feb 2013
By 
Red Rock Bookworm (St. George Utah USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Brooklyn (Paperback)
There are two striking things about Colm Toibin's BROOKLYN and they are (1) a realistic perspective and (2) the simple pacing in the telling of the story. First, this is not your typical tale of a down trodden immigrant coming to the United States and discovering that it is "the land of opportunity and freedom". This book explores the more representational and pragmatic immigrant experience. These newcomers to U.S. shores are divided into groups of people who shared a common cultural heritage, from their religious beliefs to the food they eat and who, because of their own inbred fears and prejudices, band together to ensure a kind of insular ethnic self-preservation. Irish with Irish, Italians with Italians, Poles with Poles, Jews with Jews, blacks with blacks, etc. is the order of the day. (Surprisingly, not too much removed from what we see today).

BROOKLYN follows the day to day life and experiences of Eilis Lacey, who at the prodding of her sister Rose, comes to America to seek a new life. This is not a life of glitz and glamour, but instead it follows Eilis as she goes to work at a local department store, attends school to learn accounting, interacts with her fellow lodgers at Mrs. Kehoe's all Irish boarding house, and highlights her lack of knowledge about anything occurring outside her small isolated realm. Some readers may find the lack of drama in Eilis's life tedious and uninteresting, but I found Toibin's ability to make the mundane interesting and absorbing a tribute to his ability as a writer.

Some of Eilis's reactions to situations in her life put me very much in mind of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With The Wind......and her famous "I'll think about that tomorrow" attitude. Like Scarlett, Eilis is a reticent woman who tends to hold her cards "close to the vest" making it difficult for anyone to really know her.

When a death in the family requires Eilis's return to Ireland where her "American ways" have made her appear more fascinating to and therefore more desirable, she is faced with a choice. It's up to the reader to determine if she has made the right choice...or if, in fact, this decision is truly her final one.
3 ½ stars.

P.S. - This would be a great vehicle for Nicole Kidman if she were just a tad younger.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Binchy meets Trevor..., 24 Aug 2009
By 
Lovely Treez (Belfast, N Ireland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Brooklyn (Hardcover)
Brooklyn is Colm Toibin's sixth novel but my first experience of his work - in hindsight, I am grateful that I wasn't distracted by niggling comparisons to his other novels and was able to focus on this delightful tale.

Our story begins in Enniscorthy in the South East of Ireland in the 1950s and we are immediately faced with Eilis Lacey, our protagonist, who is at a crossroads in her life, about to complete her bookkeeping classes yet facing an uncertain future as jobs are scarce in the locality. She lives at home with her widowed mother and sister, Rose and although, on paper, a happy family, they certainly don't communicate very well with each other - a detail which is reinforced when Eilis seems unable to communicate her fears about emigration to the USA as her family seem to be very cheery about her departure. Next we are treated to scenes of Eilis' new life in Brooklyn, her adjusting to new accommodation at Mrs Kehoe's boarding house, her new job in Bartocci's department store and dances at the parish hall where she meets Tony, an Italian.American with whom she embarks on a romance. But will it all end in tears?

Eilis didn't even want to come to America but she doesn't seem to fit in anywhere now, spoiled by circumstances and in a sense displaced. Things happen to Eilis as opposed to her really engaging with life, whether it be Enniscorthy or Brooklyn - she's like a sponge absorbing and melting into the background. Despite all of this I did feel sympathy for her and she seems all the more realistic for her flawed character.

There are a vast array of other vibrant, appealing characters including the wonderful Georgina who only appears for the sea crossing but she certainly makes an impression. Mrs Kehoe, the landlady is equally well drawn. Toibin manages not to turn her into a caricature although she is typical of those nosy, interfering Irish landladies who feel it their duty to safeguard the morals of their female tenants. Indeed as a newcomer to Toibin's writing, I was very impressed by his representation of female characters, all of whom seem much more animated and interesting than the male figures.

Toibin's writing style here is very lucid, extremely readable, in a few sentences he manages to convey so much and this deceptively simple style hides great emotional depth. Some will probably find it too easy for a Booker contender and yes, that thought did cross my mind but I can appreciate good writing when I see it and I think that it's much harder to create powerful understated writing than all singing all dancing action. I really admire the way he has created a work which can be read on so many different levels - it's as accessible as Maeve Binchy at her best, as poignant as William Trevor - nothing stiff and contrived here.

The only negative thing I would foresee would be that some might consider the characters not developed enough but I think I prefer to be left to speculate as to Eilis' motivation for some of her choices and not to be told the whole picture. It's a tight little novel and part of its appeal for me was its straightforward nature.

I think Brooklyn would appeal to a vast array of readers as long as you're not in need of action scenes on every page. I'm so pleased that my first visit was a pleasant one and am looking forward to The Master which is on TBR pile.

PS Eilis is pronounced Ay Lish - I realise that Irish names can cause confusion at times!
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I loved it, 25 Sep 2009
This review is from: Brooklyn (Hardcover)
I've just finished this book in 2 days - I just kept wanting to read more. I found I really cared about what happened to Eilis and I have to admit I was pleased with the ending although it did come quickly and, is this a sign of a good book?.....I would have loved to hear what happened back in Brooklyn. I liked the description of life in Brooklyn for young women in the 1950's - hard as it was I think it must have been quite liberating after living in rural Ireland and all it's restrictions. I (and I think a lot of people who may have moved away from home alone) identified with Eilis and I recognised a lot of her thoughts about being alone in a totally foreign place, and then the conflicts you feel when you return on a visit. I loved the way her thought processes worked and how she decided to deal with her various situations with either Mrs Kehoe, Fr Flood and situations with work. I didn't find her boring at all. I've never been to Brooklyn but I liked the description of life there. I know Wexford and found myself imagining the differences between her two worlds of Brooklyn and Enniscorthy. I can see how Brooklyn started to become a dream for Eilis when back in Wexford. At one level this is not a complicated book but for me it stirred my imagination and memories of things in my own life and I am still enjoying thinking about the characters. Read it and enjoy it.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply Stunning, 19 Aug 2009
By 
Simon Savidge Reads "Simon" (Manchester, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Brooklyn (Hardcover)
`Brooklyn' is a tale of Eilie, a young girl in Ireland after the Second World War where the economy is a disaster and jobs are scarce. Overjoyed simply to find a Sunday and occasional evening job when you can expect little more Eilie is suddenly offered a job and life in Brooklyn where work is easier to find and so is money and more importantly prospects. Eilie soon realises that this isn't a sudden offer and in fact her mother, sister and brothers (in England) have been well meaningly plotting this for quite some time and really she has no choice. After following her nightmare journey across the ocean we watch as Eilie settles into a new life with new people and new cultures in an unknown environment. We also watch as she grows from girl to woman and falls in love. It is eventually though a trip home that leads to the climax and a huge decision for Eilie... I wont say any more than that, I will say I bet the ending will either seal the deal for people or possibly put them off the book completely.

The plot brings us some wonderful, wonderful surroundings. I loved the Ireland we briefly got to see at the start and especially when Eilie ends up working in the local shop where supplies are low and people get special treatment, well bread that's not off, if the owner likes them. When Eilie moves to Brooklyn you could vividly see the streets of shops and as Eilie works in one of these `Bartocci's' we get to see how everything runs and I could just envisage it so clearly. I will admit it, I ended up wanting to be there in Eilie's house share in 1950's Brooklyn!

The plot also brings up many subjects. The first is poverty and how the Second World War left countries like Ireland and all the people who survived the horrors of war behind. It looks at women's roles and how they changed and strangely gained independence further during these times, they could go and work in other countries and start new lives even if the job opportunities were limited. It also discussed racism at the time as the colour of customers in Bartocci's changes, this isn't a subject at the heart of the book I did like its inclusion though as it would have happened at the time. In fact looking back with Eilie's love interest being from an Italian family and Eilie not being an American in America different cultures is in a way a theme.

For me out of everything it was the prose and also the characters that really made the book the complete joy to read I found it. I liked Eilie though for me she was in a way a `nice and intrigued' pair of eyes to watch a story through. It was characters like the scary domineering and gossiping Mrs Kelly who owned the corner shop and the fabulous Georgina, who I adored, and is Eilie's partner in illness on one of the most horrendous boat crossings I have read... I did laugh though. With characters, plot and backdrops like this I would be amazed if you could fail to love this book.
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Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín
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