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Book of the month: and April's Irish winner is... BROOKLYN by Colm Toibin (discussion Tue 27 April)

(93 Posts)
TillyBookClub Sun 28-Mar-10 23:30:55

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Emmmm Tue 27-Apr-10 20:37:04

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)

joooce Tue 27-Apr-10 20:37:12

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.

Laugs Tue 27-Apr-10 20:37:19

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.

raggie Tue 27-Apr-10 20:38:50

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!

titferbrains Tue 27-Apr-10 20:39:38

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.

Laugs Tue 27-Apr-10 20:41:19

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!

raggie Tue 27-Apr-10 20:41:55

*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...)

Emmmm Tue 27-Apr-10 20:42:07

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.

raggie Tue 27-Apr-10 20:42:49

Why didn't you want her to go back to the US Laugs?

Phrenology Tue 27-Apr-10 20:43:22


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.

Laugs Tue 27-Apr-10 20:43:29

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.

Laugs Tue 27-Apr-10 20:45:25

Oh I thought she implied she knew they were married? Hadn't Tony been to see Father ... or something?

raggie Tue 27-Apr-10 20:45:51

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.

TillyBookClub Tue 27-Apr-10 20:46:32

(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.

Laugs Tue 27-Apr-10 20:51:54

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.

Laugs Tue 27-Apr-10 20:54:26

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?

PfftTheMagicDragon Tue 27-Apr-10 20:54:30

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.

raggie Tue 27-Apr-10 20:56:19

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.

Laugs Tue 27-Apr-10 21:00:35

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.

raggie Tue 27-Apr-10 21:03:45

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!

Laugs Tue 27-Apr-10 21:05:23

You wonder if she had known for years, and that's why she'd never married.

raggie Tue 27-Apr-10 21:08:21

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!

Lottie66 Tue 27-Apr-10 21:10:05

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.

Laugs Tue 27-Apr-10 21:10:54

Maybe she was? It hadn't occurred to me but would make sense.

TillyBookClub Tue 27-Apr-10 21:10:56

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.

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