Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Book Review: Brooklyn

The cover proudly proclaims "Now a Major Motion Picture" and the inside is filled with a list of awards the book has won: 1) Winner of the Costa Book Award; 2)A New York Times Editors' Choice; 3) One of Newsweek's Fifty Books for Our Times; 4) One of The Guardian's Fifty Books That Defined the Decade. That's quite a list. Then, the reader is assaulted with 37 endorsements comparing him to Henry James, Tolstoy, and Chekhov. Thus, when I opened to the first page, I was full to the brim with expectation for this book. While I did enjoy getting to know the main character (whose name gave me pause every time it was used because I couldn't quite get the hang of how it should be pronounced in my head), I don't think I would rate this book among top fifty lists. It was, indeed, moving and well-written. The characters felt like real, living people, caught in the intense dilemmas of life. Nonetheless, I ended the book with a sense of dissatisfaction.

Eilis Lacey is a young, Irish girl in a family struggling to survive after the loss of her father. Well, I think you're supposed to believe they are struggling, but some details feel contrary to that picture. Her older sister, Rose, plays golf with a golf club, and works in an office job. Her three brothers are off working in other parts of the country. It is only young Eilis who seems to be without a vocation. As the book opens, she is fetched to work for a cranky store owner named Miss Kelly. Thankfully, the heavens open and she is offered a chance to go to America to train as a bookkeeper there. For some reason, she cannot pass up this grand opportunity and leaves everything she knows to become a young foreigner in a distant land.

The story clearly paints the picture of discomfort immigrants face. Eilis is homesick and feels like an outsider in a whole different world than she has ever known. But Eilis is such a passive character as everything just seems to happen to her and she never really takes a decisive stand to make a place for herself. Just as she is finally gaining her bearings in the new country, she begins to fall in love with a young man, Tony. It is at this point that the tale picks up steam. Something dreadful happens at home that puts her in an awful dilemma. The final bits of the book follow her back to Ireland for a month-long visit that is excruciating.

The writing really did entrance, but I struggled with almost every decision the young girl made. Why did she feel she had to leave her family and go to America? Why did she allow things to progress so quickly with the boyfriend, when the reader is given every indication that she doesn't really feel a depth of devotion to him. She likes him, but it certainly doesn't feel like she overwhelmingly loves him. Why does she make a commitment to him before going home, when she knows full well that she will be drawn into a desire to remain in her homeland of Ireland? Why does she feel she cannot tell her mother about Tony? Why does she engage in a relationship with someone else while at home? I just found every aspect of her behavior to be mind-boggling. While I felt for her in her dilemma, it also seemed like she framed the dilemma with her own choices.

Moreover, the ending had me totally perplexed. I guess I assumed the author was leading the story in a particular direction and then that momentum was simply dropped and life went back to the way it was. I kept expecting to find some horrible information revealed in the unread letters from Tony. I thought she would feel the pull of her home country with more intensity. The allure of America didn't come through clearly for me. At best, she felt like a mismatched key. So, I ended the book with a great deal of dissatisfaction and confusion.

When I placed my name on the hold list for the book, I also placed my name on the list for the movie. It hasn't come up yet, but when it does, I will watch the movie. Hopefully, I won't be as dissatisfied with the movie as I was with the book. We shall see.

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