Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

Sometimes, when I feel nostalgic for home, The Husband and I will spend an evening or two watching UK TV together. This normally cures our need for outright sarcasm and the type of pithy humour or gritty drama that only the UK seems able to produce. One night we found ourselves watching Film 2015, an excellent film review show hosted by the fabulously retro Claudia Winkleman. Amidst all the big budget films that you would expect to find was a review for a film called Brooklyn and it looked great, really great. Sadly for me, it’s release in the US, dovetailed with a heinously busy run up to Christmas so getting out to the cinema for a night, seemed like a dim and distant prospect.

A few days later, whilst Christmas shopping in our local bookshop with The Daughter, what should I see on the shelf, but the self same title. I bought it. Yes, I couldn’t manage to get to the movies, but surely I could manage to steal some time for myself in the late evenings?

There simply are not words to describe how much I loved this book. The film is now languishing in my Netflix queue, but the book, oh the joy of this book! Now I would be the first to admit that this is a theme to which I can easily relate and that probably makes me a biased reader, but I truly am struggling to find the words to describe just how this book made me feel.

The first thing that I need to say is that not a great deal happens in Brooklyn and yet, so beautifully is it written, that you find yourself utterly unable to put it down. Normally, and I probably shouldn’t admit to this, I veer away from books where the main protagonists are Irish. Now, don’t get me wrong I love the Irish, but seriously if I read one more book about ‘the Irish Experience’, poverty, famine, child mortality, then I will slit my wrists. The Husband took me to see Angela’s Ashes on our second date and frankly, we barely made it to a third! However undeterred and latterly as an immigrant myself, I uncharacteristically pursued this story.

The plot is fairly simple; a young girl leaves Ireland to pursue the dream of a better life. Once in America she finds work, education and love. Simple, yes? Then her sister dies and she returns home to help her mother. Again, this is not a book filled with crazy plot twists and the biggest ‘will she, won’t she’ aspect to this story is whether she will return to from Ireland to Brooklyn. So why the love? Quite simply, this is a story about homesickness, about finding your way in the unfamiliar and away from the comforts of home. It’s not so much about immigration at the turn of the century as it is about the small choices and difficulties that life sometimes throws at us, the normal rather than the catastrophic. Often the lives that we lead are not wildly exciting, but that in itself does not make our problems less significant. For those of us living a long way from home, it also reminds us of the inherent split in our lives whereby, if we are lucky, there are two places in which we could happily live and perhaps two different versions of ourselves to inhabit them.

About nutshellbookreviews

I love to read. I'm the kind of person who walks into a bookstore and can happily browse for hours. This means that the books I review are not necessarily going to be on the best seller list (although they could be), but are more likely just to be modern fiction that I have loved. I've started this blog as a resource for anyone out there struggling to find their next great read. Enjoy and please visit often!

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