Brooklyn, By Colm Tóibín

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The Independent Culture

When Colm Tóibí*won the Costa Book Award for this novel, he very graciously paid tribute to a fellow nominee, Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, perhaps wanting to acknowledge that hers was the better work. Tóibín's graciousness and honesty also pervade this carefully written, deliberately old-fashioned novel about a 1950s Irish émigré, Eilis Lacey, who finds herself in post-war Brooklyn at the urging of her mother and sister, who stay behind in Wexford.

Brooklyn is as much a love story as it is a story about exile. The lonely Eilis, struggling to make sense of the new world, falls for easygoing family man Tony, the son of Italian émigrés. Upon her return home, unsurprisingly, the men soon come calling. But Eilis has married Tony in secret: she is not free to love anyone else, even though she does.

This is a thoughtful, slow portrayal of a woman's growth of character and the dilemmas she faces: one of the things I loved about Eilis was how her humour gradually filtered through to the surface as she grew in confidence.