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Brooklyn: The First Look At April’s Pick

[To remind you, Brooklyn is the April BookSnob book group pick…]

This story comes to you with a kind of shyness.

It’s quiet. Undramatic. Has a slow cadence. Its words are measured, cautioned.

But you guess there is a lot more there. You can sense it, but also, frankly, the back cover tips you off: news is coming to the main character, Eilis.  Devastating news.

The first hundred pages (95 in fact) that we cover here–that bad news is beyond the horizon. We can’t see it yet. We are following Eilis from Enniscorthy, Ireland to Brooklyn, New York where it has been decided that this young 20-ish woman will travel to begin her life anew.

On her own.

“Eilis would have given anything to be able to say plainly that she did not want to go, that Rose could go instead, that she would happily stay here and take care of her mother and they would manage somehow and maybe she would find other work.”

This is nothing Eilis says out loud. She does what she is told, connects with a local priest on her arrival, stays in a respectable boarding house with Mrs. Kehoe, successfully lands employment at the Brooklyn department store Bartocci’s.

If it sounds like a breathtaking adventure for Eilis, it is not.

She is doing as she was told to do. Making the ‘right choices’. All the while pushing further below the surface her profound feelings of homesickness and loss.

“…she had thought of course of her mother and Rose, but also her own life in Enniscorthy, the life she had lost and would never have again, she had kept it out of her mind…All this came to her like a terrible weight and she felt for a second that she was going to cry. It was as though an ache in her chest was trying to force tears down her cheeks despite her enormous effort to keep them back. She did not give in to whatever it was.”

This quietness is apparently Colm Toibin’s amazing ability to deal with ‘submerged emotions’.

Uh, okay.

I’m willing to agree that there must be a talent there (a deep magnificent talent) because by page 95, this book has even me feeling repressed.

Every critic seemed to love this book–god, the pressure! Maybe I can’t even imagine a day that my emotions were that submerged. Repression is not a characteristic I generally subscribe to. So mea culpa, people.

But if truth be told…at this point, I can’t but help feeling I want Eilis to buy a first-class ticket home. Or go postal at the annual church Christmas dinner. Or get hopelessly drunk and have a lesbian relationship with a boarding house roommate.

Anything. Really. I don’t care how bizarre.

But watching her sit on her feelings in a 1950s kind of way is making my eye twitch.

I know I am likely not convincing you to join me to read this April read. But if you have read Brooklyn, can you help add some color here?


One more thing.
I have already decided on May’s book group selection.
Yep. Tinkers, by Paul Harding.
The Fiction Pulitzer.
I have given you plenty of warning, so will you join me in May????


9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Kelly Fordon #

    I loved Tinkers and would like to be a part of the discussion but I guess I’m technologically challenged…where is the discussion taking place? For the last book club (The Vagrants) I assumed I would get an e-mail and then I would jump in but I didn’t hear anything…and I didn’t see it on your blog. I guess I need a road map! Thanks, Kelly F

    April 15, 2010
    • Kelly, It’s less about your being technologically challenged and more about my not being clear. I did a review on Vagrants with two guest postings. I think I buried it too much, because we didn’t get the comments that we would hope. So feel free to jump in there! I will add a bit more structure to this upcoming book, Tinkers. I promise! Maybe since you have already read it, I will enlist you in helping me a bit… thanks.

      April 15, 2010
  2. Avery Sargent #

    Would love to join the Tinker discussion as long as I am done with my current tomb, Cutting For Stone, which BTW, is divine…..

    April 15, 2010
    • Avery, Great! I have heard this about Cutting for Stone. Perhaps we can add that at a later date.I am really looking forward to reading Tinkers with a few folks.

      April 15, 2010
  3. Judy G. #

    Hang in there with Brooklyn. It gets better — more intriguing as Eilis comes into her own (sort of). Our group just finished it and really liked it. In fact, it prompted one of our more robust discussions. By the way, love your blog. You crack me up sometimes.

    April 15, 2010
    • Judy, thanks for the encouragement. I have kept reading and I can see your perspective. I find myself pulling for Eilis to find her sea legs. PS. what do yo mean “sometimes”? ; )

      April 15, 2010
      • Judy G. #

        Oops! I mean ‘almost always’, not just sometimes. And only in between your brilliant and insightful thinking and comments. (Smile)

        April 19, 2010
  4. Ellen #

    Talk to your mother and grandmother about the 50’s………Hard to believe but duty to family was still considered the all, especially after WWII.
    Women especially were expected to do their duty without complaint.It was still a time for family family family. Remember, the 60’s were yet to come. Perhaps in this story they will also come.

    April 16, 2010
    • Hi Ellen, yes, I am asking my Mom to consider reading it and appreciate you adding this comment. It was the duty. The story, as I finish it, does not hit the 60s, but it does hit a major tension point which forces the main character to choose between duty and what it is she wants. It has definitely increased the enjoyment of reading it!

      April 19, 2010

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