On Colm Tóibín’s “Brooklyn”

by Sabhbh Curran

Brooklyn draws together some of Tóibín’s favourite themes – national identity, Catholicism and the changing role of Irish women – in a quiet and understated coming of age story. 1950s Enniscorthy provides few opportunities for Eilis to find and job or husband; local society is conservative and its economy stagnant. While her brothers have left to work in England, she, in the established trajectory, is bundled off to America for a better future. Desperate homesickness is filled with hard work and a relationship with a young Italian American man.

We are so used to Irish emigration narratives but, in Tóibín’s novel, it is the allure of home that prevails. When circumstances force Eilis to return to Ireland, she releases that, with her tanned skin and ‘American’ clothes, she has become a figure of glamour and mystery in Enniscorthy. What is so compelling about Brooklyn are the very human complications in attempting to cast off your roots. Eilis’s reluctance to return to America is not only bound up in responsibility to her family but to Ireland, and Tóibín handles this deftly, comically, movingly.