Book of the month: and April's Irish winner is... BROOKLYN by Colm Toibin (discussion Tue 27 April)(93 Posts)
The magnificent by Colm Toibin has shot to the top of April's poll, with Sebastian Barry in second place.
We'll get together here on Tuesday 27 April 8.00 - 9.30 pm to discuss the book.
I am contacting the publisher now to see if Mr Toibin might be able to join us on the night so fingers crossed...
And for anyone new to bookclub, here is how it works
i haev questions about the characters
Count me in. I loved Brooklyn. And I have questions for Mr T.
Hmm now just need to find a plausible excuse for spending an evening on the computer!
Ha, ha. I'm quite new to book club and was amused to see the power of mumsnet. I had a look online to see if my local library had a copy of Brooklyn. The local council had 23 copies and there are already 19 reservations in place, obviously I need to be quicker off the mark!
Yes! I have just finished reading this.
What an interesting juxtaposition.....
The current cover for Brooklyn is the one one that was used for the hardback edition of Rachel Heaths book The Finest Type of English Womanhood.
Great, started reading this last month and as I'm a bit bad at giving myself time to read I might have got it finished by then. Fingers Crossed.
I'm about a third of the way through it, and have mixed feelings about it currently.
I read it a couple of months ago, details are alittle hazy now but it did feel a little anti-climactic.
Loved this book, took it on holidays only last week and could not put it down until I finished!Characters were so charming and warm.Only thought I had was the ending seems to lead to a follow up book....or leaving me wondering if it was just a one off for the main characters'story? Was I the only one wanting a little more at the end?
Bought Brooklyn today.
PLEASE do Sebastian Barry another time, it's gorgeous.
(Also, when contacting Mr Tóibín - don't forget the fadas - it might help get him!)
How do you do fadas, IAABN?
Sorry for hijack!
CTRL+ALT+a = á
I absolutely adored this book. I read the last third of it in one sitting, with my heart in my mouth. Can't wait to hear what everyone else thought of the ending.
I'm struggling tbh. Should finish it tonight.
I have nearly finished this.
It is GREAT.
I didn't realise Colm was a man's name - I thought the book seemed like it was written by a woman.
I think he captures a woman's feelings very well, especially the bitchiness of the lodging house.
I am slightly scarred by the vomiting scenes early in the book though <faints>
My DH is reading it now. I think he's a bit bored by it. He said last night, 'Girl leaves Ireland, girl throws up on boat, girl gets job in shop - so bloody what?'
Then I started a discussion about how it is the little details that make it important. It could be the story of any one of the countless immigrants to the US during the 20th century, it is 'personalising' history. He disagreed, and feels that the book is not adding anything to the retrospective narrative of immigration.
I think he may abandon it soon in favour of something with burning helicopters on every page.
I agree with your DH. I didn't enjoy it at all I'm afraid.
I watched "Little Island" on BBC4 last night and loved it - about Jamaican/UK emigration, so maybe it's because I'm Irish and have read lots about Irish/US emigration that it bored me?
I loved this book and didn't want it to end. I'm with you Leptin - so tense by the end my hands were shaking as they gripped the book! I loved the way Colm Tóibín swung my expectations and sympathies; not wanting Eilis to be persuaded to abandon Tony but then wishing she could get out of their marriage and stay in Ennisworthy with Jim and her mother. I loved the period detail, but it is much more than a book about 1950s emigration. He writes so accurately and movingly about how circumstances hold our desires captive.
just finished this by fluke...looking forward to discussion!
My husband picked up this book in a library in New Hampshire while on holiday in October - his only suggestion for a name for our baby and annoyingly perfect. I read the book on my return and loved it. I am now 40+5 and if the baby is a boy it will be Colm, if a girl Eilis.
I am very much looking forward to the book group discussion and hope that by then i will know whether i have a Colm or Eilis.
I was just raving about this book to an Irish friend today and she told me Colm means 'dove'. It's a beautiful name - so is Eilis - good luck!
Hello - I'm new to book club but I just read Brooklyn on holiday last week and looking forward to our discussion, especially if with Colm Tóibín! (The keyboard shortcuts didn't work on my Mac but I copied and pasted)
I agree with lots of what's been said, both good and bad but I think it's meaty enough to provoke a good discussion and that's what we want isn't it?
Sweet to hear it's influenced your choice of names fairfield
And ItsAllABitNoisy - you mean Small Island don't you? I watched it on iPlayer after its first showing and thought it was great. I had previously tried to read the book and not got through it well but think I'll give it another go now you've reminded me. The only thing was I thought the ending of the film was a bit cheesy, especially with the OTT detail letting us know it's the 90s or 2000s or whatever - LOOK a boy on a skateboard! And someone with headphones! ... Just because the rest was particularly well done, I thought. But perhaps it's because I wasn't around in the 1950s and anyone who was would think those bits were a bit hammy?
Oh bugger you raggie! I've only watched the first part - second part is on tomorrow night! I'm trying to count backwards so I can forget what I've just read.
Sorry for off-topicness. I won't join in the discussion, as I seem to be in a minority here and don't want to "diss" the author.
In my defence, I didn't actually reveal any of the plot.
I loved this book. When I read it I was thinking that nothing much happened. No burning helicopters! But I got more and more gripped and anxious to see what Eilis would decide, and in the months since I read it have wondered what happened to her, what sort of life she had, as though it was part of my own family's story. It reminded me of that jolt you get when you see pictures of your parents in their youth, and realise that they had lives before you existed. I live in Liverpool so am surrounded by that generation of Irish immigrants, their children and grandchildren, and felt as though I was reading their family history.
This was a wonderful book - was gutted to finish it and felt sad for days afterwards (still do when I think of it). Her dilemma and the intervention which ultimately brings about Eilis's decision are masterfully plotted. Beautifully done. I felt a great sense of tragedy - I was really drawn into the book - it made an ordinary story very poignant and special. Loved loved loved it.
I'm still tracking our author down - he sadly can't make tomorrow as he's on a plane (I think volcano-related). We're finding a date for a separate webchat in the next couple of weeks.
So please hang on to all those thoughts, and bring them along tomorrow night, 8-9.30. And hopefully I'll be ale to announce when he's coming on.
See you tomorrow...
Oh, and May's Book of the Month winner has been announced...
Loved the book (read by coincidence, & have just spotted this thread) - but will be at RL book club tomorrow night talking about A Fine Balence (which is amazing, incidentally...) Will look up the thread after you've all been erudite....
Oh yes a fine balance is AMAZING! Has fairfield had her baby yet, does anyone know?
Lots of opinions already here, I'm going to kick off by asking who loved this book and who didn't. I absolutely adored it, thought it was deeply moving and memorable, yet I realise that it is very simple.
What id everyone think?
I really enjoyed it too, although I can appreciate where those who didn't are coming from. As you said Tilly - simple and straightforward. But that's part of its charm, no?
For me, the characters were so vivid and the places so well-drawn and the time too (I imagine) that I was just caught up in almost 'living' the story that I just couldn't put it down.
I read whilst in a remote corner of Wales, cut off from internet, on a short holiday, mainly while bfing my daughter. I think where/when you read this book might have an effect on enjoyment of it.
Are we starting yet? Like Fifi I loved the way the writer made me change my mind about what Ellis should do - didn't want get to return home in case she got trapped there but then wished she could have stayed....
I had bought this book before it got picked as I was interested in the subject matter - one of my grandfathers emigrated from Ireland & lived in Brooklyn in the 1920's. I wonder how different it would have been then?
I found the first part of the book (before she leaves Ireland) brought back many memories to me - I grew up in Ireland in the 70s and I think small towns hadn't changed much since the era when the book was set - the petty snoberies, everyone knowing everyone else's business, even the bit about only shopping in certain shops!
Sorry, took me so long to type that that you have all started!
I was surprised that was such an easy read, hadn't read any of Colm Toibins books before, I agree with whoever said they thought it could have been a female writer...
Really enjoyed this. I read it on holiday, and towards the end I had to keep stopping for childcare, meals etc. and found that I couldn't concentrate on anything while my brain was busy trying to decide what she would do in the end!
Although it was quite predictable that the grumpy chap (forgotten name) was going to start being all nice once she was back, I still got very caught up in the suspense of the final chapters.
I loved it. I think the characters are incredibly well drawn and the author (on the whole) doesn't resort to pantomime villans to move the story on. So rare to get such a gripping story out of 'normal' characters.
I think it was because they're such normal characters that the story was gripping, in some ways. That and the fact that it's so believable. The turn of events - albeit with some dramatic licence! - could have happened to lots of people from that era, who left their homes and made new lives overseas. Not just from that era/Ireland either come to think of it...
I liked the simplicity of the dialogue and Eilis' witty little comments.
I also was amazed at how Toibin captured the era - partic the bits set in the shop, describing the mood, the service, the keen Italians and their wish to please everyone, and Eilis' descriptions of the well dressed black women who came in to buy tights - fascinating.
My grandfather also returned to Ireland - was supposed to be temporary but he never went back to the US. My mother said his heart was always in Brooklyn but I suppose she and I would not be here if he had gone back...
Absolutely. When you some up Eilis' story - emigrate, get married, come home for a funeral and start getting off with a local boy - she sounds callous. But I identified with her at every turn - particularly when she went into denial mode and couldn't make a decision at all. So true when you know you're going to have to tell someone something they're not going to like.
I was about to say that I struggled to understand how she could snog some dull pasty irish bloke after the witty italian, but actually have just remembered similar, erm, transgressions while at uni so story is very real, I guess!!!
I agree that the suspense drawn from normal characters was wonderful - no special effects, or silly plot twists, or over descriptive writing. I just wonder HOW he does it. I kept trying to figure out why I was so gripped. We all recognise those feelings of homesickness or indecision or familial guilt, but he managed to express them so purely somehow.
I thought that small town Ireland was beautifully scripted.
The comment about her being home from the US and therefore more exciting was totally indicative of the times.
Before she went away, she could not for the want of a better expression even get arrested yet she arrives home, more self posessed than when she left and that in itself made her worthy of attention. Pathetic.
I thought he drew her confusion between Brooklyn and home very well and indeed I rather think she may have stayed if it had not been for the shop keeper whose name escapes me. (have lent the book out)
When she summoned her to her parlour which she was not worthy of two years previous and made it very clear that she spoke to Ma Kehoe on a regular basis, I think in that moment small town Ireland crystalised for her and she realised she would always spend her life in a goldfish bowl.
Whereas if she went back to Brooklyn, then she and her Dh could move out to Long Island and be themselves.
I had mixed feelings about this book. I loved the details, the bits about the boat, the shop she worked in, her housemates and the details about the dance.
I felt really adrift from Eilis though. I feel as if she doesn't really want anything that she has, like she's just not that bothered, but I'm not sure if that's because she is supposed to be written like that, part of me thinks she is, but it really feels as if there is some part of the character missing. I felt like it might be on purpose, but it just made me not care about her.
Yes it was the simplicity and clarity that made it for me. There wasn't a single word out of place but the feeling that there was so much beneath the surface that was inexpressible. He did the characters justice by not trying to put that into words.
Probably haven't got anything to add to what has already been said, other than I LOVED this book - I think the main reason must be the writing, it literally skips along the page - love the simplicity and the little very well drawn detail. Like others amongst you, the subject area is one I am familiar with (not directly, but through literature I suppose. As for where I was when I read it - not on holiday, just at home whilst minding the baby. Got the book as a present in March (among others) and chose it to read first cos of the big font and wide margins and nice front cover (except COSTA coffee is boggin' so I thought an award from them might be a bad thing)
I'm sorry but i'm not a lover of this book. Whilst i can see that it is well written and the cultural topic well explored- i still found it forgettable. Another poster hit the nail on the head for me, it depends on the environment its read in as to whether it will be fully appreciated. And on a busy train on the way to work is not the time or place. I just couldn't fully emerse myself into it.
I felt really differently about the end to Phrenology. I didn't think she wanted to go back, but felt like she had no choice. Everyone would know she was married and to have left her husband like that was completely unacceptable at that time.
Yes to small-town Ireland crystallising for her, that's a good way to put it.
At the time I was so frustrated by her slipping back into small town Irish life and couldn't really understand it, but on reflection, it was very realistic. Things were familiar, she had this newfound respect and admiration for her 'new
persona', it was easy.
I especially liked how Tóibín used the letters from Tony sitting in the drawer burning away... When she saw them Eilis was horrified that she hadn't written and guilty as hell about her infidelity. But it was easier just to close the drawer and stick her head back in the sand while enjoying the here and now. I know I've been very guilty of that before!
Pfft, I wonder if it is that people were so much more private at that time so we got to hear some of her thoughts but not all of them -
when perhaps you wanted to know more? I'm thinking of those awkard letters from her brothers, and the way she takes so long to tell her family about what's actually going on in her life.
She hadn't even read them had she? Poor Tony!
What did everyone think she should have done? I spent the last quarter saying No No No! to myself. I didn't want her to go back to Ireland for fear that she'd never return, then I didn't want her to go back to US either.
I read it a few weeks ago and I am still wondering whether she made the right choice!
*waves to laugs*
Yes, at the time I wasn't sure of her motives for returning to Brooklyn. I think I wanted her to want to go back, because I wanted her to go back? (If anyone can make sense of that, well done...)
Actually I think she made the right choice. To stay in Ireland in that pub with his parents breathing down her neck (and her mum and the too small little town) would have been too dull - better the exciting life in Brooklyn with the italian bunch.
As for Eilis, I think I 'got' her but was sorry that she didn't hop on a boat for her sister's funeral, but I guess not v practical and she's have probably missed it, and then she might have got sucked in and felt like she had to look after her ma and I didn't want that for her.
Why didn't you want her to go back to the US Laugs?
IIRC the old biddy in Brooklyn didn't know they were married, she certainly knew they had carnival knowledge of each other but from memory that is all she knew.
I sort of thought it was more genuine the way all her thoughts weren't expressed. That's more true to life to me. We don't go round explaining our innermost feelings to ourselves, like characters do in most books, they lie beneath the surface, bubbling up occasionally.
Oh I thought she implied she knew they were married? Hadn't Tony been to see Father ... or something?
Yes, her thoughts being quite hidden was good. Frustrating at times and perhaps one of the reasons others disliked it? Agree with the poster who suggested it was more like the times where people were more buttoned up and also with you Laugs - makes it more real. We don't even know what our friends are thinking in their innermost selves and it was the same with Eilis.
(dealing with a 4 year old who is leaping out of bed like a Jack in the box, so sorry for intermittent and badly typed posting...)
redandgreen, I absolutely identified with Eilis too.
If I'd been in her situation, I would have gone back to America as well. That's probably due to characterisation though - I didn't quite believe in the Irish guy as much as I believed in Tony.
The night of first sex between Eilis and Tony was very well done, I could completely envisage that mix of emotional neediness and pain and oddness.
And her homesickness had me in tears. But again, I think that's because I'm homesick right now.
Did you think she loved Tony though? I wasn't sure. He loved her - did she decide that was enough? I think she was caught by trying to do the best by everybody to the point where she barely knew herself.
Raggie - hi! - it wasn't so much I didn't want her to go back to Brooklyn, but it was just that every choice was taken out of her hands. She drifted around being the good girl and led the life others wanted for her - until she was torn by conflicting needs of others. I was just desperate to realise what she wanted for herself, which I don't think she knew.
How about Rose? We never found out when she knew she was sick, did we? Do you think she knew before Eilis went and that was why she sent her away, so she could have a life and not be trapped at home?
I thought that she didn't want to return. At some point she does say that she would have to go back as she can think of no way to explain to Tony what has happened.
I think it was very clear that she was swept away with his enthusiasm for their relationship and the marriage, and when they were apart she wasn't so sure why they were together.
Although, she does refer to Jim, about how in the future their time together will seem misty, just like Tony did once she had returned to Ireland.
Yes, Eilis was certainly a drifter wasn't she. It was indeed frustrating not knowing what she really wanted. But I guess it's one of those stories where you project yourself onto the character, or rather, your beliefs if you like i.e. I thought she did love Tony by the time she married him, but perhaps that's because I'm a romantic!
Their relationship made me think of my grandparents' relationship. They met and then he went off to war. I wonder what it was like for them, how they felt etc but I'll never know and not just because I can't now ask them but because it seemed to be a time when people didn't reveal themselves like that so readily. The fact that Eilis doesn't to us either makes the book all the more clearly set in its time.
I don't think she loved Jim though. I think that was more like, oh wouldn't it be so much easier if I could be happy here and look after mum etc.
Her feelings of Tony did dim when he wasn't around, but I don't think it was so clear cut that she no longer wanted him.
I do the same when I go home to my parents' for the weekend... I can almost forget I am married and have a whole life elsewhere, I revert to my teenage self, hang out with friends, go on big nights out etc - but it doesn't mean I'm not happy in my normal life most of the time.
Rose was a bit of a mystery wasn't she? I suppose we have to assume that's why she let Eilis go to the US. What a martyr!
You wonder if she had known for years, and that's why she'd never married.
She seemed such a modern character, Rose. I half thought something shocking was going to be revealed - that she was in love with a married man from the golf club or something! Actually, that would of course never have been revealed as it wouldn't fit at all with the tone of the book, as we've been saying. But maybe we were supposed to wonder about it? Maybe she was meant to be gay!
I felt this book was an enjoyable read and hard to put down. It had a good story line. It was interesting reading how Ellis was changing as a person becoming more confident in herself. I was fascinated to read how Ellis coped with moving from the relative safety of her home town into the unknown. I thought how brave of her and I also thought it was probably her upbringing and values that helped her . I felt the ending was frustrating as it left you wondering what her future will hold and wished the story would continue. My only other criticism of the book was lack of chapters as I hate putting the book down in the middle of the story.
Maybe she was? It hadn't occurred to me but would make sense.
Laugs, I think you've nailed it - Eilis doesn't know what she wants, and she's like a cork bobbing about on a tide. The way her feelings and indecision are hinted at and exposed make her so incredibly real, but the conclusion is she doesn't really come to a conclusion, does she? It is always someone else who is pulling the strings (including Tony who masterminds the marriage, the house in Long Island etc). But she is complicit in all of it, even in her sister sending her away. She never fights any of it.
I'd love a sequel. I'm picturing her 10 years on as Betty Draper from Mad Men, going housewife crazy in suburbia while Tony strides along Madison Avenue.
Funny you should say that Tilly as I couldn't stop picturing Tony as Pete Campbell from Mad Men. I know he wasn't meant to look like that, but that's who he was in my head.
But there is some happiness isn't there? I definitely had a wee bit of envy for her lives both in Brooklyn and in Enniscorthy. Neither are really bad lives.
I do wonder what will become of her, although I hope there isn't a sequel as I don't want to be told. I think she's out there on her own now as a character, she's not Toibin's any more!
Me too, raggie. A slick black Brylcreemed hairdo. And the slightly needy, emotional side coupled with tough talking, showy-off side.
Weird, as I can't stand Pete and I did quite like Tony so not sure how I can place them together so closely.
I do wonder what would have happened if Tony hadn't made them get married. Just the sex wouldn't have prevented her marrying the Irish one, would it? That old biddy couldn't rule her future with that gossip, as long as the two of them decided it was ok. It is more Eilis realisation that she can't undo the marriage that sends her back, isn't it?
I wonder if she'll carry on studying and become an accountant, or if she'll give it all up once they're properly married.
Laugs I'm torn between thinking it fits so much better not to know and yet wanting to know. I'm sure there could be plenty more in store for Eilis to drift through.
Yes, I think it's that realisation. If she hadn't married Tony, I think she'd have stayed in Ireland. And Tony knew that too.
Raggie, I mean I would love a perfect sequel, but I just don't know how he could get it right. If she continued drifting and never making a decision on anything, it would get a bit frustrating. If she hit the Sixties and became a hippie and left Tony to live in a commune, it would make all this heartfelt indecision so pointless.
I'm itching to ask the author if he had different endings in mind, or different dilemmas for her that ended up in the wastepaper bin. She came alive for me in a way that very few other characters ever have, and I'd love to know how he shaped her.
Will keep you posted on this thread when we do pin him down and get a date for a chat.
I'm heading to bed with May's Book of the Month now, thanks to all for a great evening, see you on Tue 25 May for the next one...
<snort! at Eilis becoming a hippie>
Come to think of it, life must have been so hard for women who came of age in the 50s when their choices in life were so limited, then to witness the 60s happening and this whole world of possibilities being open to girls just a generation younger.
Thanks Tilly! This has been my first time taking part and I really enjoyed it. Will have to get hold of the next one.
Yes that's true. I remember being a bit confused at the time of reading, thinking at the time that the characters seemed so straight and prim but that it was the 50s, like (embarrassingly) Happy Days? Just goes to show how quickly things changed in a short space of time.
Only watched the first series of Mad Men so far but that chronicles the fast pace of social change in the early sixties - have you seen it?
Only the odd episode, I haven't followed it. I saw one where Don Draper was reading Frank O'Hara's Meditations in an Emergency, looking a bit , which I guess is 50s meeting 60s kind of period.
Have you read anything else by Toibin by the way, or did you just pick Brooklyn up for this?
AARGH ARGH ARGH
I realised this afternoon that I had missed this and I so enjoyed the book. Hope we can pick up if Tilly gets the author on.
I've just realised that I forgot all about the discussion - I planned reading it, I read it very quickly and finished it several days early. I loved reading it. And then the discussion completely slipped my mind. DS2 wasn't well on Tuesday night, but he went to sleep much faster than normal and I might have been able to get down before the end of the discussion slot.
I was glad that she went back to Brooklyn - I really didn't like Jim much, and I think she would have had a more interesting life in the US. Despite the housewife image, I think she might have been able to continue working or to return at some point, and I think she would have been freer about how to live her life in the US.
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