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Thoughts on “Brooklyn” by Colm Tóibín (Audiobook)

I first heard of Colm Tóibín in a college English class, where we read The Aspern Papers by Henry James followed by two contemporary novels that featured James as a character. Tóibín’s beautiful The Master was one of them. I loved its limpid prose and knew someday I would read more by Colm Tóibín.

About the Book:

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin (audiobook cover)It is the early 1950s, and Eilis Lacey is about to finish bookkeeping classes in the small Irish town where she has grown up, caring for her mother from under the shadow of her older sister. Her father has passed away, and her brothers have jobs in distant Dublin. Eilis figures she will eventually find a job in her hometown and perhaps a husband, passing the years of her life without venturing far beyond the town’s familiar limits. It won’t be the most thrilling life, but it suits her fine.

Then an Irish priest visiting from Brooklyn offers to sponsor Eilis, to get her to America and to help her establish herself there. In Brooklyn, he assures her, her skills will be in demand and she will settle into American life easily. Faced with the knowledge that her mother and sister have pinned all their hopes on her, what choice does Eilis have but to take the priest up on his offer and try her luck in Brooklyn?

My Thoughts:

Brooklyn is one of those quiet books, the kind that seems straightforward…until suddenly you realize it’s anything but. Tóibín’s prose felt plainer in Brooklyn than they did in The Master, and I think for that reason I picked the former up once in print but only got a few pages in. When I came across the audiobook at the library, I thought I would give it another go, and I’m very glad I did.

The story is simple, yet at its core it brims with truth. With unadorned narration, Tóibín follows Eilis through her rather ordinary life: starting a job, gossiping with fellow boarders, writing to her family, helping her sponsor with church functions. Her life is unremarkable, free from the sensationalism and breathtaking moments sprinkled throughout many contemporary novels. She could have been any young immigrant, leaving everyone and everything she has ever known to seek a better life. Yet somehow, in her ordinariness, Eilis is beautiful. I hung on every word of this one small soul’s story.

That is not to say that Eilis herself is simple. On the contrary, she is surprisingly intricate, and I quickly grew to feel I knew her. Tóibín somehow makes the feelings with which Eilis struggles, her reactions and changes of mood, universally accessible, which adds to the realness of Eilis. I felt I knew her, and trusted her to find her own way as I looked on. I was pleasantly shocked to realize how quickly I’d become invested in Tóibín’s leading lady.

Kirsten Potter narrates the audiobook, which I began skeptically, wondering how well her unashamedly American accent would work for a story so steeped in Ireland. But Potter’s voice is sturdy, just like Eilis, and her style of reading somehow matched Tóibín’s writing. Potter used gentle accents for characters who required it (including Eilis herself, when she spoke), and her own narration came to set off the dialogue nicely. I listened whenever I could and found myself quite caught up in Brooklyn by the end.

Those are my thoughts. Check out Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín on Goodreads or LibraryThing, read other bloggers’ reviews, or listen to an Audible sample!

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  • http://bookfanmary.wordpress.com Mary

    It’s on my shelf and after reading your take on Brooklyn I’m looking forward to reading it myself.

    • Erin

      I hope you like it, Mary. I think Toibin is a very talented, if sometimes understated, author.

  • http://www.ragingbibliomania.net/ zibilee

    I am not quite finished with this audio, but am coming to the tail end of it. I agree that it’s a quiet book, but I am in love with it’s simplicity and lack of melodrama. It really is an interesting read, and I am eager to find out which way Eilis eventually decides to go. I am glad you enjoyed it as well. it is a rather short read, as far as audios go.

    • Erin

      The lack of melodrama is rather refreshing, isn’t it? And I didn’t know how it would end until I was actually listening to the final pages. I was satisfied with the end, though, which to me is at least as important as the rest of the book.

  • http://theeclecticreader.wordpress.com/ carolinareads

    This one sounds great.

  • http://bibliophilebythesea.blogspot.com/2011/01/mailbox-monday-january-10th.html (Diane)BibliophileBytheSea

    I enjoyed this book, and it was a new author for me, so that is always a plus. Nice review ERin

    • Erin

      Thanks, Diane. I’ve only read one other of Toibin’s novels, but it was excellent.

  • http://Www.reviewsbylola.wordpress.com Stephanie

    This is one of my favorite reads of the year so far. Eilis’s story really struck me.

  • http://anothercookiecrumbles.co.uk/ anothercookiecrumbles

    I want to read this as well. Been meaning to since it was on the Booker longlist, but procrastination is a great friend. Just finished Let The Great World Spin (thanks to Reading Buddies!), so might wait for a bit before reading another Irish-New York immigrant story. Just for variety’s sake.

    • Erin

      Yes, agreed, they’re similar at least outwardly. I kept typing “Colum Toibin” and “Colm McCann” while writing my reviews! Though, while LTGWS is complex and elaborate, Brooklyn is rather simple and linear. I can hardly even compare the two. Still, always good to take a break between potentially similar books!

  • http://wormhole.carnelianvalley.com Charlie

    I’ve wanted to read this for so long but still not got round to it. I’m glad to hear it’s a good book and that it’s quite slow, because that’s what the UK cover made me think it might be and thus what I was hoping for. There’s something about the 50’s that makes for a great story.

    • Erin

      Agreed! Yes, it’s definitely quiet and slow, so if that’s what you’re after, it should be perfect.

  • http://www.thebooknerdclub.blogspot.com mummazappa

    I am yet to read any of his books, but I love hearing him speak, he has such a lyrical voice and way of expressing himself. This is at the top of my list of his books to read though, good to hear it’s very involving.

    • Erin

      I’ve never heard him speak but would love to!

  • Jen – Devourer of Books

    Oh, this sounds lovely!

  • http://literatehousewife.com Literate Housewife

    I have picked this book up and set it back down at the bookstore at least 20 times. I think I’ll go your route and go with the audio. It sounds wonderful.

    • Erin

      The audio definitely worked for me. I’ve owned the book since it came out in paperback and only finally got to it when I picked up the audiobook!

  • http://lostinagoodstory.blogspot.com/ Joanna

    I agree that Eilis was very real, but I still wanted the happy ending! :-)

    • Erin

      Ha, well, yes :-)