Brooklyn, By Colm Tóibín

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The Independent Culture

Eilis Lacey, the biddable heroine at the heart of Colm Tóibín's prize-winning novel, is a young girl with seemingly few prospects. It's the 1950s and the best job on offer in her hometown of Enniscorthy is a position at the local grocery shop. Thanks to the intervention of her older sister, Rose, and the auspices of a well-meaning priest, Eilis is offered the chance to start over in New York. "Parts of Brooklyn are just like Ireland," she's told. "They're full of Irish."

After a stormy Atlantic crossing, recorded in grim detail, Eilis finds herself in a stuffy Brooklyn boarding house. Homesickness dogs her every waking moment, as does her newly frizz-prone hair. Unlike her fellow lodgers she's had escape thrust upon her, something "for which she was not in any way prepared." Trying to lose herself in work and night classes, she gets involved with a young Italian plumber, Tony, and slowly her horizons start to widen.

Like fellow Irish writer, the late Brian Moore, Tóibí*is good at getting under the skin of his female protagonists. Eilis is the kind of young girl too polite to express what she really wants, and so drifts into situations instead of taking control. When towards the end of the novel she's summoned back to Wexford, she finally seeks recompense for the expatriation she never intended.

From the author's melancholic early novel The Blackwater Lightship through to his acclaimed The Master recreating the inner life of Henry James, Tóibí*explores the silent bonds that keep men and women tied to a particular time and place.