As has so often happened with my book club selections, what I liked, everyone else was iffy on or didn’t like. This was one of my favorite books of the year so far and a lot of people felt it fell flat. Sigh.
The majority of us had seen the movie as well as read the book and most of us agreed that the two were pretty similar. It was a nice touch for me after so many movies I’ve seen have strayed so far from their book origins. We had an interesting question from the reader guide that said we should compare the book to the TV show I Love Lucy because the two were set in the same era. It seemed an odd comparison when Lucy was trying to make us laugh and show the funny side of life while Brooklyn was a reality that wasn’t fun at all. The only thing we could really pull from the exercise was how well Ricky Ricardo was received by a television audience that was rejecting Italians and Irish in stores. It seems that Cubans were better accepted than many European settlers.
There is a lot to say about the author. Colm Toibin was born in Enniscorthy, Ireland and set part of the novel there for that reason. This was his sixth novel and he’s written another book, Nora Webster, which employs some of the same characters but is set in Ireland. Many people were surprised that a male author wrote with a very feminine vision, a surprise I expressed in my review. Toibin is heavily influenced by Hemingway and I could easily see that in his sentences and rhythm. There was a lot unsaid that the reader had to infer. Some readers didn’t like that and wanted some more from Eilis. I’m a big Hemingway fan and it was right up my ally. Toibin writes most of his books in an uncomfortable chair with a pen and paper, transferring his words to a word processor later on. Brooklyn, however, was his first book not written longhand, which he composed during a residency at Stanford.
This story resonated with many because while it’s the story of one girl, the things Eilis went through mirror what many immigrants go through. A woman in our group shared her immigration story and said Eilis’s desire to find a purpose in Brooklyn and belong there was something she went through as well. Members of our group who had moved around the country on their own felt the same way. Eilis was a reluctant immigrant, sent to America against her will almost. Rose seems to have sent her away knowing that she herself was ill and didn’t want Eilis stuck at home taking care of their mother but living. The path she followed was set for her, work, school, and later on, Jim. She was very passive in the book and only stood up for herself when Mrs. Kelly forced her hand and she decided to leave Ireland.
We contemplated if Eilis would have stayed and married Jim if she hadn’t been found out. Jim didn’t look her way at all before she went to America, giving her the cold shoulder. She was only interesting when she had a story. She says that she didn’t think Jim could accept her if he ever found out and we think that was true. The relationship she had with Tony was hard for us to understand. Eilis felt, to some, very flat and we wondered why he was so attracted to her. He seemed to like Irish girls but doesn’t really say what it is about them. She seemed attracted to him because he felt safe. She didn’t feel she fit in America but Tony made her belong and she loved him for that. We were bothered that once he was out of the picture, she didn’t even read his letters. We couldn’t decide if it was because it would make her miss him too much or because he was easy to forget.
The edition our library handed out had an excerpt from Nora Webster in the back that brought up a good question. We felt that Mrs. Lacey was proud of Eilis for being successful in America when she returned, but when Eilis left, she was both angry and sad. We wondered how their relationship would be after. The quotes from Nora Webster talk about May Lacey being unable to look at pictures of her daughter and her American husband, much the same way Eilis couldn’t read Tony’s letters. It’s too painful and forces up a lot of repressed memories.
Our next book is another historical fiction, this time from the early 1800s. I’m liking this trend! Until next time, write on.