[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’.
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????