Brooklyn is a 2009 novel by Irish author Colm Tóibín. It won the 2009 Costa Novel Award, was shortlisted for the 2011 International Dublin Literary Award and was longlisted for the 2009 Man Booker Prize. In 2012, The Observer named it as one of "The 10 best historical novels".
Colm Tóibín born 30 May 1955) is an Irish novelist, short story writer, essayist, playwright, journalist, critic, and poet.
Tóibín is currently Irene and Sidney B. Silverman Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University in Manhattan and succeeded Martin Amis as professor of creative writing at the University of Manchester. He was appointed Chancellor of the University of Liverpool in 2017.
Called "a champion of minorities" by Arts Council director Mary Cloake as he collected the 2011 Irish PEN Award, that same year John Naughton of The Observer included Tóibín among his list of Britain's three hundred "public figures leading our cultural discourse" — despite his being Irish.
Awards and honours
1993: Encore Award for a second novel The Heather Blazing
1999: Booker Prize shortlist for The Blackwater Lightship
2001: International Dublin Literary Award shortlisted for The Blackwater Lightship
2006: International Dublin Literary Award for The Master
2004: Booker Prize shortlist for The Master
2004: Los Angeles Times Novel of the Year for The Master
2004: Stonewall Book Award for The Master
2004: Lambda Literary Award for The Master
2004: The New York Times as one of the ten most notable books of the year for The Master
2007: Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature
2008: Honorary degree of Doctor of Letters (DLitt) at the University of Ulster in recognition of his contribution to contemporary Irish Literature
2009: Booker Prize longlist
2009: Costa Novel Award for Brooklyn
2010: Awarded the 38th annual AWB Vincent American Ireland Fund Literary Award
2011: International Dublin Literary Award shortlist
2011: Irish PEN Award for contribution to Irish literature
2011: Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award shortlist for The Empty Family.
2013: Booker Prize shortlist for The Testament of Mary
2014: Named as a trustee to The Griffin Trust For Excellence In Poetry, which awards the Griffin Poetry Prize
2015: Hawthornden Prize for Nora Webster
2017: The Dayton Literary Peace Prize Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award
2017: The Kenyon Review Award for Literary Achievement
2019: Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award
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The South, Serpent's Tail, 1990, ISBN 978-1-85242-170-0
The Heather Blazing, Picador, 1992, ISBN 978-0-330-32124-2
The Story of the Night, Picador, 1996, ISBN 978-0-330-34017-5
The Blackwater Lightship, McClelland and Stewart, 1999, ISBN 978-0-7710-8561-1
The Master, Picador, 2004, ISBN 978-0-330-48565-4
Brooklyn, Dublin: Tuskar Rock Press, 2009, ISBN 978-3-446-23566-3
The Testament of Mary, Viking, 2012, ISBN 978-1451688382
Nora Webster, Scribner, 2014, ISBN 978-1439138335
House of Names, Scribner, 2017, ISBN 978-1501140211
Mothers and Sons, Picador, 2006, ISBN 978-0-330-44182-7
The Empty Family, Penguin/Viking, 2010, ISBN 978-0-670-91817-1
Brooklyn received favorable reviews on publication. Robert Hanks for The Daily Telegraph referenced the immigration experience within the novel by saying, "American reactions to the Irish immigrant experience can easily tip over into hyperbole... Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn is a controlled, understated novel, devoid of outright passion or contrivance, but alive with authentic detail, moved along by the ripples of affection and doubt that shape any life: a novel that offers the reader serious pleasure."
Scribner for Bookreporter said, "In his quietly perceptive prose, Colm Tóibín effortlessly captures the duality that lies at the heart of Eilis Lacey’s story. Brooklyn unassumingly offers both a classic saga of an immigrant coming to terms with life in her new land and an equally appealing story of one young woman’s grasp of a hard-won maturity."
Tóibín was commended on his description of the changes in American society during the 1950s, such as the department store's acceptance of "coloured" customers, Long Island's suburban boom, and the arrival of television. Many applauded Tóibín's measured prose and the calm tone of the novel, though Eilis has been described as being "so passive that you sometimes felt like giving her a good shaking."
In 2019, the novel was ranked 51st on The Guardian's list of the 100 best books of the 21st century.
Brooklyn won the 2009 Costa Novel Award, was shortlisted for the 2011 International Dublin Literary Award, and was longlisted for the 2009 Booker Prize.
Main article: Brooklyn (film)
A feature film based on the novel was released in 2015, with director John Crowley and script written by Nick Hornby, starring Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson and Emory Cohen. The film won numerous awards and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.
One of the striking things about Colm Tóibín, perhaps the most admired Irish writer to emerge since John Banville, is the feeling in his work of a powerful sense of humour being strategically suppressed. Tóibín's writing isn't humourless; there are darkly comic scenes in The Master and some witty lines of dialogue in The Blackwater Lightship, and his journalism is frequently very funny. But in his novels, on the whole, he's so intent on leading his readers where he wants them without letting them catch him doing it that making them laugh too often might strike him as counterproductive. His fiction works hard to create the illusion that the characters reveal themselves almost independently of the narrating voice. It also aims to depict complicated feelings and interactions with a minimum of fuss and portentousness, using simple words and a precisely controlled tone that implies a certain hush.
Tóibín, it should be added, has serious interests. These include Catholicism and the legacy of Irish nationalism, the inward sufferings of gay people throughout most of history, and difficult emotional currents within families. Spanish and Latin American politics are part of the background to The South and The Story of the Night, and he touches in several books on the devastation done by Aids to gay men in the 1980s. He writes well about women, often putting them centre stage, and about people who feel compelled to hold their feelings at a distance, his Henry James in The Master being a good example. At the same time, he loves form and imposes strict rules on himself concerning point of view and narrative manipulation, rejecting tricks as firmly as Raymond Carver did. His plain style is unostentatious even in its plainness, avoiding musical balance but also taking care not to seem mannered or excessively clipped.
In Brooklyn, Tóibín continues to conjure strong emotions from the gaps between his lines, but this time humour has more of a place in the range of available tones. He fits it in partly through lightly comic dialogue. "No one likes flies," a haughty Wexford shopkeeper tells the heroine, a young woman named Eilis Lacey, "especially on a Sunday." Yet the jokes aren't free-floating. Tóibín gives Eilis - whose point of view is strictly adhered to throughout - a well-tuned ear for such speech, which she uses to entertain her mother and elder sister. The reader quickly sees that there's something brave and sad about her spirited performances over the dinner table in the economically stagnant provincial Ireland of the early 1950s. Her father is dead; her older brothers, much missed by her mother, are working in England; there are few prospects of marriage and few jobs in Enniscorthy.
Eilis's sister Rose, whose earnings from an office job support the family, plays golf in the evenings. At the club she meets a priest, back from America on his holidays, who knew their parents years before. The priest offers to arrange a job in Brooklyn for Eilis, who soon finds herself crossing the Atlantic third-class, fully understanding that, by organising this, Rose has sacrificed her own future. Tóibín patiently dramatises Eilis's homesickness and her brushes with enforced American good cheer, her relations with her fellow inmates at an all-Irish boarding house, her work at a moderately enlightened department store, her night classes, and her pleased discovery of all-night heating and affordable women's fashions. In time she meets a handsome Italian-American man who speaks seriously and tactfully of marriage. Then a death summons her back to Ireland, where she finds that America has made her glamorous and desirable, and faces a choice between the old life and the new.
This simple-sounding story takes on depth and resonance in a number of ways, starting with what it leaves out. There's no awed first glimpse of the Manhattan skyline; even the account of Eilis's first trip to a baseball game focuses on her boyfriend's way of being with his brothers, not the chance to write a set piece. Overemphasis is almost obsessively dodged. "'She'll be there. Nothing is any trouble now,' he said": most writers would have put the speech tag between the two sentences, but not Tóibín. Within his stern parameters, however, he's able to convey pathos, sharp observation, and finely detailed psychological realism. Brooklyn's symmetries and neatly circular plotting aren't camouflaged as heavily as the rest of its artistry, but there's no mistaking the book for a conventional historical weepie. The word "love" is applied more often to Eilis's feelings about her room or her textbooks than to the men in her life, and Tóibín doesn't sentimentalise his central character's experience of either country.
We're used to getting these kinds of stories from an American perspective in which moving to America is the natural thing to do. Tóibín makes his emigrant's story more painful without simply reversing those assumptions or ruling out an ironic distance from postwar Irish insularity. (A prim young woman from Belfast shares her views on Brooklyn's Italian and Jewish populations: "I didn't come all the way to America, thank you, to hear people talking Italian on the street or see them wearing funny hats.") Eilis herself is an interesting character, less defenceless and more troubled than she initially seems, and the novel uncovers the "dark, uncertain" areas within her with a very light touch. Her rejection of her landlady's proffered friendship, and her encounter with her sexually wistful female boss, are handled as delicately as any scene Tóibín has done, although here and there his delicacy doesn't exclude a note of ribald amusement as well as worldly melancholy.
rating:PG-13 for a scene of sexuality, and strong language.
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