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Brooklyn: A Novel | [Colm Tóibín]

Brooklyn: A Novel

It is Enniscorthy in the southeast of Ireland in the early 1950s. Eilis Lacey is one among many of her generation who cannot find work at home. Thus when a job is offered in America, it is clear to everyone that she must go. Eilis heads for unfamiliar Brooklyn to a crowded boarding house. Slowly, the pain of parting is buried beneath the rhythms of her new life - until she begins to realize that she has found a sort of happiness.
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Audible Editor Reviews

Colm Toibin's Brooklyn is a portrait of immigration with all the grand scheming stripped away. Eilis Lacey liked things just fine at home in Ireland, and what she leaves behind is not the slow horror of the potato famine but the depressed economy of the 1950s. Her adventure is produced by a banal lack of choices and executed with the circumspection of a person fully aware of how dangerous and lonely the world is away from her mother's kitchen table.

The novel's style reflects this restraint. Toibin never writes two sentences when one will do, and the narration, by Kirsten Potter, is beautifully expressive without relying on actorly tics. When she performs Eilis' dialogue, she deftly turns the rising inflection and ironic pacing of a County Wexford accent into an expression of Eilis' uncertainty and reserve. Eilis' American co-workers and boyfriend speak in flat, friendly, percussive tones. You can hear their sureness of place and purpose, and feel Eilis' relief when she's surrounded again with voices like her own.

Eilis leaves her family behind in Enniscorthy on the urging of her glamorous older sister and a priest that the family has enlisted to smooth the way for her. She lands in Brooklyn with a job in a clothing store already arranged for her and takes a room in a boarding house where the manners and morals of all the single women are under constant scrutiny. She works in the shop, attends night classes at Brooklyn College, eats dinner with the other lodgers, and on Fridays attends the dance at the parish hall. Each of these elements of her new life is significant because it stands over a void of dislocation. The simplicity of the prose and the purity of the narrative's focus magnify these small accomplishments — the moments of emotional equilibrium, the certificate in bookkeeping that will move her from the shop floor to the offices upstairs — into the towering emotional achievements that they are. In Brooklyn we watch the ordinary, terrifying work of dismantling a life and building it up again from nothing. —Rosalie Knecht

Publisher's Summary

It is Enniscorthy in the southeast of Ireland in the early 1950s. Eilis Lacey is one among many of her generation who cannot find work at home. Thus when a job is offered in America, it is clear to everyone that she must go. Eilis heads for unfamiliar Brooklyn to a crowded boarding house. Slowly, the pain of parting is buried beneath the rhythms of her new life - until she begins to realize that she has found a sort of happiness. As she falls in love, news comes from home that forces her back to Ireland, where she finds new possibilities that conflict deeply with the life she has left behind in Brooklyn.

©2009 Colm Tóibín; (P)2009 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

What the Critics Say

"Tóibín's genius is that he makes it impossible for us to walk away." (The New Yorker)
"Slowly, equably, and without malice, Eilis exacts a bittersweet revenge for the expatriation she never intended—or, rather, one unfolds for her unsought, organically. … [Tóibín] shows no condescension for Eilis’s passivity but records her cautious adventures matter-of-factly, as if she were writing them herself in her journal." (New York Times Book Review)
"Eilis is almost a parody of 1950s femininity. … The ending of Brooklyn is a masterpiece of quiet reflection, bringing up deep emotions submerged under the placid exterior and giving the novel an ache that will linger for days." (Christian Science Monitor)
"Tóibín’s tributes to old New York, both in landscape and disposition, beautifully reflect on a time past, but it’s Eilis’ universal struggles with matters of the heart that make this novel such a moving, deeply satisfying read." (Entertainment Weekly)

"[Kirsten Potter] produces the American characters without flaw and delivers the general narrative at a nice, easy pace." (Washington Post Book World)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.6 (284 )
5 star
 (62)
4 star
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Overall
3.7 (105 )
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Story
4.1 (98 )
5 star
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4 star
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3 star
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2 star
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1 star
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Performance
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  •  
    A. Cohen Seattle, WA United States 04-04-10
    A. Cohen Seattle, WA United States 04-04-10 Member Since 2003

    AJay

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    "Maturing in Brooklyn"

    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.

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    D. Littman OH 06-07-09
    D. Littman OH 06-07-09 Member Since 2003

    history buff

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    "extraordinary novel about ordinary life"

    Colm Toibin has done a remarkable thing with this new book, Brooklyn. He has written an extraordinary novel about ordinary life. As such, the book is slow, detailed, nicely inhabits the mind of the main character, Ailish, seems very familiar (even though the signature crisis of the 1st 3/4 of the book involves emigrating from Ireland to America in the 1950s). In the last portion of the book, the crisis heats up with Ailish's return to Ireland, and some crisis of conscience ensues without the reader actually realizing, until it is too late, that such is goinjg to happen. Again, it seems familiar, ordinary, even as it is a crisis.

    Highly recommended for the beautiful writing, the excellent narration, and the uniqueness of the ordinary life story put into art.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dennis Washington, DC, United States 05-29-09
    Dennis Washington, DC, United States 05-29-09 Member Since 2002

    Tell us about yourself! I am a former high school history teacher and now, a semi-retired physician assistant.

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    "Irish Stew"

    Colm Toibin has written an immigrant story about an ordinary girl, from an ordinary town doing ordinary things. Eillis faces her problems with honesty and courage, yet, in the end, she allows herself to get caught up in a love triangle that introduces us to a different side of her character and makes us wonder who she really is. The story has few twists, but the end is worth the wait.

    5 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Beth Anne Philadelphia, PA, United States 05-24-13
    Beth Anne Philadelphia, PA, United States 05-24-13 Member Since 2012

    i like to read. i like to listen.

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    "Historical Fiction & Emotional Rollercoaster"

    this book was fantastic. it made me so emotional -- sometimes giddy happy, sometimes crestfallen, sometimes very very angry.

    it's a really poignant story about the journey of a young woman named Eilis, who comes to Brooklyn from Ireland in the 1950s. over the course of the story, she grows becomes independent, bold, courageous. she falls in love. she takes control of her life. then she has to go back to Ireland because of a family emergency...and all of this growth and development seems to have stayed behind across the ocean.

    i was deeply disturbed by parts of this story. some decisions that Eilis made were very upsetting to me. to me, it's a sign of a great writer when i'm sitting here reading the book and talking out loud to the characters. this is what i was doing while i read this book, especially the final part. i was hoping with all my might that she made the decisions that i wanted her to make. i felt like i had a stake in her life.

    i loved the charm of this story. the little surprises that kept me interested. and the interesting choices that were laid in front of Eilis.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mary Brooklyn, NY, United States 05-20-13
    Mary Brooklyn, NY, United States 05-20-13 Member Since 2013

    Retired. My hobbies are knitting, sewing and sports. To busy doing hobbies to be able to read so audible books are great for me. Also enjoy listening when driving on a long road trip.

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    "Nice story esp if your family came from Ireland"
    What did you love best about Brooklyn?

    Could relate to the character telling the story. Could feel for her story about leaving Ireland and coming to a whole new country.


    What does Kirsten Potter bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    She tells the story with an Irish accent where appropriate. Made you feel you were actually hearing characters speaking in person.


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

    The trials of coming to a whole new way of life.


    Any additional comments?

    Enjoyed the book until the last chapter. There should have been at least one more chapter to bring the story to a close. Left so many things up in the air - too many loose ends and not those at least I felt good about deciding for myself what she was going to do. I would have preferred a nice neat package of the story lines all tied up. You are lead to believe she is headed back to America, but does she. Does she follow through with her marriage? Does she get the promotion she worked so hard at college for? Does she live happily ever after with Tony? Even if they didn't go into details, a chapter written later in her life with a look-back on these items would tie everything up in a neat package.

    Too many questions left unanswered at the end.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Vicki SILVER SPRING, MD, United States 09-24-12
    Vicki SILVER SPRING, MD, United States 09-24-12 Member Since 2011
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    "A Pleasant Journey"
    Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

    Brooklyn was a good book to listen to and time well spent for me. It is well read, keeps your attention and the story flows nicely. I wanted a "book on tape" specifically so I could listen while driving, walking and doing chores. The simplicity of the story allowed for continuous listening (no rewinding needed) - it was good company.


    Would you be willing to try another book from Colm Tóibín? Why or why not?

    I would likely try another book by this author when I am looking for another pleasant journey instead of an obstacle course or roller coaster ride. Although it would be nice to hear a story with a little more development.


    What does Kirsten Potter bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    The reader brought the main character to life with her soft tone, directness and slight accent.


    Did Brooklyn inspire you to do anything?

    I read Brooklyn for a book club and it prompted a lot of discussion about the two different cultures, how the world and role of women changed, or not during that time period. If anything it inspired a desire to know more, see more character and story development.


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ashley West Lebanon, NH, United States 03-14-12
    Ashley West Lebanon, NH, United States 03-14-12
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    "I Loved this book"

    Brooklyn was a very interesting, entertaining and emotional story. I would love to read more, possibly Return to Brooklyn???

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Harriette 01-10-12
    Harriette 01-10-12
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    "Low key but lovely Irish immigrant story"
    What does Kirsten Potter bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    My son recommended I get this as an audio book in order to enjoy the Irish accents. We had each spent time in Ireland.


    Any additional comments?

    Not a page turner, but you care about the interior dialogue of a character who makes life changing decisions--not necessarily because she wants to, but simply because she must. .

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John Austin, TX, United States 06-24-09
    John Austin, TX, United States 06-24-09 Member Since 2007
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    "Disappointing"

    I've read a number of Colm Toibin's books and have both enjoyed and admired them. Brooklyn, which I very much wanted to like, is a disappointment. The novel gets so caught up in its effort to produce an unadorned narrative about quite ordinary people who must live through a very common experience that it loses any hold it might have had on the reader's imagination. In looking so closely at the mundane, it becomes mundane. I should add, hoever, that the reader is excellent.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cariola Chambersburg, PA USA 06-21-09
    Cariola Chambersburg, PA USA 06-21-09 Member Since 2005

    malfi

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Big Disappointment"

    After enjoying The Master and reading all the glowing reviews of Toibin's latest novel, I was really looking forward to Brooklyn. Unfortunately, it didn't quite live up to the hype. I was quite absorbed in the first 2/3 of the book, where Eilis is sent to America, tries to adjust to her life and her fellow lodgers, and falls in love. But, as a few other readers have mentioned, I really started to dislike her in the last 1/3 of the book, and I HATED the way it ended. I don't want to give anything away, so I'll just say that it wasn't the choice that she made that angered me but the WAY in which she made it. Also, I was left thinking, "That's it? We don't get to see how things work out?" It really left me hanging.

    There's no doubt that Toibin is a skilled writer. But I know that he can do better than this. Not an awful read, just rather weak and disappointing in the end.

    5 of 7 people found this review helpful
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