Colm Toibin's Brooklyn tells the story of Eilis, a young woman who escapes a provincial 1950s Irish upbringing and matures in a Brooklyn rooming house. Having grown up during the 50s a half mile from Ebbet's Field, shopping in the Fulton Street area, and attending Brooklyn College, I enjoyed the nostalgic walk around the block. Oddly, the novel felt 100-200 years older than the 50s, almost a manners tale, not Austen or Dickens in quality of character or plot, but somehow reaching for a little of each. Sensible expectations. The novel ambles along as if World War II never happened, with an ocean crossing depiction reminiscent of turn of the previous century nightmares followed by surprisingly little observation of the post-war Brooklyn environment. It is tempting to say that the novel would have made a better short story, or a better longer novel, but my disappointment is probably not related to the length, but to the lack of theme and focus in the narrative. There are no subplots, and fundamentally Eilis' story seems more suitable to 1st person narration. Was the story about breaking away from confining family or place, immigration, evolving realizations, obeying/breaking the rules, betrayal, achieving aspirations, first love, sexual awakening, cultural/religious differences? All of the above, and unfortunately, none of the above.
Kristen Potter does a fine job with the narration.
The hype surrounding this book was extraordinarily positive. Unfortunately, I have been very disappointed.
I felt that the premise for the book was very creative, and had great potential. However, I don't believe I have come across an author who stretched out a narrative with such exhausting emptiness. For all its length, this is not really an epic tale. This is a plot story, without interesting characters, observational insight or psychological nuance. The vampire-virus conceit is not particularly scary, disturbing, campy or sexy. The writer draws out inconsequential details of activities, while breaking up the time line into a patchwork somewhat disconnected stories; the result renders the characters to placeholders or passersby, and the entire exposition lost its ability to make me care about anyone or what happens next. This is a story that could be seriously abridged; there was so little going forward in the story that I could multitask for long periods of time without missing a thing. I don't think I will be lining up for the next two volumes of the trilogy.
I don't even think that if the story could be repackaged as an HBO series or an Avatar like animation. The story is too disjointed.
Scott Brick comes across pretty flat in this reading, but I don't know if that is his fault. His strong point is earnestness, but this is a tale that is too boring to hold conviction over its length. The sentence structure of Mr. Cronin's writing lacks finesse of verb, adjective, metaphor and his dialog fails to evoke tension or reveal character. There is not much for Mr. Brick to work with.
This book has now been reviewed by thousands of readers with an average rating of over 3.7 indicating that many have loved it. Perhaps it is just not my cup of tea.
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