Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Review: Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

"She was nobody here. It was not just that she had no friends and family; it was rather that she was a ghost in this room, in the streets on the way to work, on the shop floor. Nothing meant anything."

*WARNING: This review contains spoilers, read at your own risk*

Finding a character and story that seem to summarise exactly how you are feeling is one of the things that I love about reading. Meeting Elis Lacey in Colm Toibin's Brooklyn was like greeting an old friend. She is a young girl in a small Irish town, her whole life is planned, she will work, get married and have children. It's mundane but comfortable. When her sister, Rose, arranges for her to move to Brooklyn, Elis is thrown from her comfort zone and forced to make a whole new life for herself, on her own. As a self-confessed home bird preparing to move to university in a few months, Elis' story really resonated with me. 

What I appreciated most about this book was the lack of hyperbole and romanticisation of immigration. For Elis, it wasn't an exciting opportunity or the start of a new life. It was terrifying, strange and uncomfortable yet as the story progresses, hope begins to appear. She didn't find her perfect career but buried herself in her job and school work to distract herself from the almost debilitating homesickness. 
My only grievance with the plot was the way the love story was portrayed. Elis only seems to grow to love her life in Brooklyn once she meets Tony. When Elis returns to Ireland after her sister's death, Tony is reluctant to let her go because he's worried she won't come back so he persuades her to marry him. This made me uncomfortable as it felt like the marriage was a way for Tony to exert his control over Elis rather than a mutual act of love. 

With that being said, however, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Toibin's writing is gentle and soothing, he guides you on this journey that Elis embarks on and when reading, you feel safe in the knowledge that no matter how painful things may be, everything will be ok in the end. 

I recently watched the film adaptation of Brooklyn and have to say, I have mixed feelings. It captured the uncertain yet hopeful atmosphere of Elis' move to the U.S. However, in the film it appears as if Elis has made the decision to move to Brooklyn herself. Whilst it could be argued that this change makes Elis seem like a stronger and more independent character, I felt the fact that Rose made the decision on Elis' behalf was key to the narrative. This huge life change being out of the main character's control made everything feel more unfamiliar and scary and allowed Elis room to grow into the independent and strong willed woman she becomes.

Have you read Brooklyn? If you have, let me know what you thought of it in the comments!

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