As you are likely aware, I have a rule when it comes to books and their movie adaptations. It is simply that if I know a movie was based on a book before watching the movie, I have to read the book first. This also goes for adaptations on television (specifically, Game of Thrones).
This is exactly what happened with Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín. I had not even seen a full-length trailer, but I found out that they based the movie on a book by the same name, so I avoided watching the film. Despite not seeing a full trailer, I did know a little bit about the book.
Brooklyn is, to put it simply, a story about a young Irish girl in the 1950s who cannot find work in Ireland. Thanks to her sister and a family friend, she gets a job at a fancy department store in Brooklyn, New York. After an interesting trip by boat over to New York—I’d say amusing, but I am not really sure what to think—she arrives into a world where, as you would expect, she does not quite fit. Homesickness plagues her, but eventually she adjusts to life in Brooklyn by keeping busy with night classes in bookkeeping.
Eilis lives in what I believe you call a boarding house with a couple other young women and a strict older woman (the landlady). She begins to attend Friday night dances at the local parish and there she meets (you had to expect this) a young man named Tony. The two of them begin to fall for one another, but then an event back in Ireland forces Eilis to return home to her family.
I started out really enjoying this book. While I have never moved across the ocean from my family like Eilis, I remember experiencing severe homesickness in my first year of university. It got to the point that I seriously considered transferring to a university back home, though I managed to get through it just like Eilis. I found her experience relatable, and I think that it seemed like a realistic view of what it was like for those people who really moved that far away from home and could only communicate through letters.
However, there also came a turning point for me where I lost the reality of it and got annoyed with Eilis. I felt that, while the romance started out nice, it eventually just fell flat and seemed off (unreal?) to me. I do not mean romances that just seem so perfect they could not be real. This one just did not have a connection after a certain point and I no longer believed in it.
When Eilis returns home to Ireland, she is given a glimpse into what her life could have been like if she never went to Brooklyn. Does she like it? Does she stay in Ireland? You will have to read it to find out.
Even though things fell flat to me, I do think that Brooklyn has enough merit and pull in the beginning of the story to make it a decent read. After all, not everyone enjoys the same books, so you could end up absolutely loving this one where I did not connect with it.
Author: Colm Tóibín
Publisher: Scribner (Imprint of Simon and Schuster)
Genre: Literary/Historical Fiction