Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

I find the accolades accorded to this book mystifying. A few weeks ago Toibin won the Costa Novel of the Year Award for it; the Costa is a prestigious British literary prize given to authors from the U.K. and Ireland. He was favored to win the bigger prize, the Costa Book of the Year, but lost to poet Christopher Reid. (This happened yesterday! Aren’t I current?)

I keep hearing about how subtle this book is—“modest” (Washington Post), and “understated” (Los Angeles Times). How about bland? Ordinary? Unremarkable? Those would be my words.

In the book, Eilis, a young woman, leaves her mother and sister in Ireland and moves to Brooklyn at the behest of a priest who has promised to find her work and a place to live. She does not particularly want to go, but is too passive to resist all the well meaning efforts of friends and family who see the move as an exit from the poverty and backwardness of a 1950’s Irish village. In New York, Eilis thrives despite her trepidation, though her motivation stems more from a continued desire to please Father Flood and her family than to really succeed. She gets an education and a boyfriend and some stylish new clothes. But the sudden death of Eilis’s sister Rose calls her back to Ireland and while there, Eilis must decide once and for all where she truly belongs. Or, maybe, as per usual, someone will decide for her.

Eilis is a sap and her boyfriend Tony is a bully. Everyone else is from Central Casting. If this book were written by a woman, it would have had a pink cover and been shelved with the romance novels. It’s not even as good as the best of Maeve Binchy’s offerings—I like Maeve Binchy, but in 30 years of writing she’s never won a major literary award like the Costa.

(Book 3, 2010)


Astrid (Mrs.B) said...

Every review I've read on this book has been very positive. So it's very interesting to hear from someone who wasn't that impressed. Thanks for reviewing it. I don't think I'll be rushing out to buy it now.

Melissa said...

Absolutely ... you are absolutely right. I felt the same way. Bland and boring. I don't have my review up yet, but I'll be linking to yours as well when I do.

Booksnyc said...

I am disappointed to hear this. I am a big fan of Toibin and was very much looking forward to this one. My emigrated to the US from Ireland in the 60's so I thought there would be some parallels to her life. She and I are both anxiously anticipating this one - hope we are not disappointed!

Peter Handel said...

I think you are an idiot who has completely missed every subtle nuance there is to miss. Good lord! And you bother linking to the Guardian Book Page??!! Why bother - they loved it, maybe you should read a little closer next time - this writer is a master. In my website see my reviews and read Blackwater Lightship review - it is a stunning novel.

Becky Holmes said...

Mr. Handel, yes, nothing is more nuanced than to call me an 'idiot.' Thanks for sharing your opinion, but until you learn to respect our dialogue here I will not be visiting your review or blog.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with your review.
I bought the book based on some of the reviews - nice but bland.

I thought I had missed something!

Anonymous said...

I totally disagree with the initial post. This book was engrossing and subtle. If you are attracted to fast moving plots and sexy characters you won't "get it." It was one of my favorite books this year and the fact that a man wrote it so beautifully from the female perspective is amazing.
It's humanity and nuance are astounding and it deserves every honor it has received for those reasons alone.

Unknown said...


Anonymous said...

How can you possibly compare this writer with Maeve Binchy??? This tells more about you than the novel you have criticised.

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