Colm Toibin won the Costa Novel Award in 2009 for Brooklyn his novel about Eilis Lacey a young woman from Enniscorthy in Ireland emigrating to Brooklyn in New York. That prize-winning history set my expectations high, but unfortunately they were deeply disappointed.
Toibin appears to be paying a debt to the old country, as he is a native of Enniscorthy who moved to New York. The debt is not however paid with a great feat of storytelling despite the literary award. I would go further and say that there is no story to the novel, instead we granted reportage on the life of one rather docile immigrant. Eilis' story is not one typical of immigrant literature of seizing the land of opportunities by the horns or being destroyed by its competitive cruelties. Instead Eilis is someone who lets life happen to her, even the immigration is her sister Rose's idea. This obedient docility makes her an unsympathetic main character and results in a directionless novel that has no overriding vision or conflict to hold it together.
If you want an insight into Irish society in County Wexford or New York in the Fifties this might appeal, but I would not recommend it as a novel. It is not particularly well written and pales beside Toibin's Testament of Mary in that regard, which adds to the feeling that Toibin's heart is not in the novel, even if he did leave his heart in Enniscorthy.
© Mercia McMahon. All rights reserved.