SAU Buzz

Book Review: “Brooklyn” by Colm Tóibín

by Elli Alvis
Posted on Oct 04, 2018

“Brooklyn,” a novel by Colm Tóibín, is the coming of age story of Eilis Lacey. A store clerk in a small village in Ireland in the early 1950s, Eilis is constantly in the shadow of her older sister Rose. Obviously feeling stuck somewhere unfulfilling, Eilis is surprised when Rose secures her a job and a place to live in a boarding house in Brooklyn, New York.


The novel follows Eilis as she is thrown into a different world completely by herself and left to figure out how to adjust to a new life away from home, especially when she is split between two romantic relationships and forced to choose between them.


Tóibín’s development for a young female main character is relatable and interesting for the reader.


Eilis has the character flaws and thought processes of any young adult, and she spends much of the first half of the book feeling displaced and uncomfortable in a foreign place. This is especially poignant for young women new to a college campus or a job in a new city, which is just one of the many angles where Tóibín’s character hits so close to home.


Eilis’ love interests, Tony and Jim, are also expertly written and very easy for the reader to become attached to.


Tony is a young Italian man living in Brooklyn when Eilis arrives, and he immediately sweeps her off her feet. With a big, inviting family and a likeable sense of self confidence, Tony becomes crucial to Eilis’ adjustment to life in New York.


However, when tragedy strikes back in Ireland and Eilis must return, she soon meets popular, wealthy Jim. Although his background and circle of contacts may make him seem shallow and rude, Eilis is surprised to find Jim charming, kind and soft spoken. After several months in Ireland, Eilis must make the decision to remain in the village she has always known with Jim, or return to the life she built for herself and Tony in Brooklyn.


Tóibín’s description of both 1950s New York and Ireland is well written and beautifully detailed for the reader. Brooklyn especially has gone through several character shifts throughout its history, and the way Tóibín was able to capture its rich diversity and culture in the 1950s makes for a seemingly effortless ability to illustrate his vision in the minds of his reader. Also, his pastoral and picturesque description of the Irish village and countryside is incredibly detailed and well developed.


A film based on the novel was released in 2016 and captured Tóibín’s vision perfectly. It was directed by John Crowley and starred Saoirse Ronan (“The Lovely Bones”), Domhnall Gleeson (“Harry Potter”) and Julie Walters (“Mamma Mia!”). The adaptation received several awards, including a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Picture.