Tag Archives: Viking Books

Brooklyn – Colm Toibin

One thing that I particularly like about reading this year’s Man Booker long list is that it is giving me the opportunity to read for the first time some authors that I have always wanted to try but never quite managed, or possibly been slightly daunted by. A.S Byatt is one of them and that is still going slowly but surely (enjoyably so), Coetzee I will be starting today and is someone I have always been intrigued by. However its Colm Toibin who I pretty much own the back catalogue of works by but haven’t read a page… until I started ‘Brooklyn’ that was.

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I am not going to hold back I loved ‘Brooklyn’. I thought Toibin’s style of prose and narrative was simple and beautiful and throughout the whole book I was totally and utterly engaged. I liked and believed in all the characters and I loved the subtle simple plot. In fact ‘subtle and simple’ are possibly the perfect two words to sum this book up for me. Yet at the same time it’s quite an epic novel and one that covers a huge amount in fewer than 250 pages.

‘Brooklyn’ is a tale of Eilis, a young girl in Ireland after the Second World War where the economy is a disaster and jobs are scarce. Overjoyed simply to find a Sunday and occasional evening job when you can expect little more Eilis is suddenly offered a job and life in Brooklyn where work is easier to find and so is money and more importantly prospects. Eilis soon realises that this isn’t a sudden offer and in fact her mother, sister and brothers (in England) have been well meaningly plotting this for quite some time and really she has no choice.  After following her nightmare journey across the ocean we watch as Eilis settles into a new life with new people and new cultures in an unknown environment. We also watch as she grows from girl to woman and falls in love. It is eventually though a trip home that leads to the climax and a huge decision for Eilis… I wont say any more than that, I will say I bet the ending will either seal the deal for people or possibly put them off the book completely.

The plot brings us some wonderful, wonderful surroundings. I loved the Ireland we briefly got to see at the start and especially when Eilis ends up working in the local shop where supplies are low and people get special treatment, well bread that’s not off, if the owner likes them. When Eilie moves to Brooklyn you could vividly see the streets of shops and as Eilis works in one of these ‘Bartocci’s’ we get to see how everything runs and I could just envisage it so clearly. I will admit it; I ended up wanting to be there in Eilis’ house share in 1950’s Brooklyn!

The plot also brings up many subjects. The first is poverty and how the Second World War left countries like Ireland and all the people who survived the horrors of war behind. It looks at women’s roles and how they changed and strangely gained independence further during these times, they could go and work in other countries and start new lives even if the job opportunities were limited. It also discussed racism at the time as the colour of customers in Bartocci’s changes; this isn’t a subject at the heart of the book I did like its inclusion though as it would have happened at the time. In fact looking back with Eilis’ love interest being from an Italian family and Eilis not being an American in America different cultures is in a way a theme.

For me out of everything it was the prose and also the characters that really made the book the complete joy to read I found it. I liked Eilis though for me she was in a way a ‘nice and intrigued’ pair of eyes to watch a story through. It was characters like the scary domineering and gossiping Mrs Kelly who owned the corner shop and the fabulous Georgina, who I adored, and is Eilie’s partner in illness on one of the most horrendous boat crossings I have read… I did laugh though. With characters, plot and backdrops like this I would be amazed if you could fail to love this book.

In fact actually this is just the book I have been craving to read, and haven’t quite been able to find (not even in Samantha Harvey’s The Wilderness but almost) for quite a while something I would rush to read the next bit of and get lost in all over again. I can’t wait to read more Toibin after the Man Booker long list, the only question is… where to start, what should I read of his next?

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Filed under Books of 2009, Colm Toibin, Man Booker, Penguin Books, Review, Viking Books

Love & Summer – William Trevor

Bizarely a week or so before the Man Booker Long List was announced my Gran (who I know you are all a big fan of) was telling me how wonderful the author William Trevor was. She did add that invariably his entire works “end in tears before bed time” but equally were some of the most wonderful writing and prose she has read from a modern author. Now had I know that he had a new book coming out after such praise as that (my Gran doesn’t rave about authors often after 60 plus years of reading) I would have possibly put him in my guess for the Man Booker Long List this year, but I didn’t. Now reading the Long List I have had the honor of getting an early copy but would William Trevor live up to my long list hopes, let alone my Gran’s high praise?

‘Love & Summer’ is really a snap shot of several peoples lives in the village of Rathmoye, Ireland. I have to admit as I have a slight nosey streak I really enjoy books that have a decent plot but are very much about people and observations of characters and from reading this novel it’s clear that William Trevor is wonderful at this. However it is at the end of one characters life that the book starts and through this death certain characters meet and certain characters circumstances change for good.

The death of Mrs Connulty and her journey from building to building through the town after is the opening paragraph of the book and had me thinking ‘oh this is going to be gloomy’ until I read a line that made me laugh out loud. As she dies Mrs Connulty thinks that “she wouldn’t miss her daughter and she sincerely hoped she wouldn’t be reunited with her husband”, I thought that that was a brilliant line and one I wasn’t expecting. After her death we also see how grief affects her children both Joseph and the unnamed Miss Connulty. There are scenes with the latter and her mother’s jewelry that are fascinating and incredibly insightful.

Mrs Connulty’s death seems to affect everyone in Rathmoye as if you believe the gossip mongers “Mrs Connulty owned half the town” and everyone is out for the funeral. One such guest is Ellie Dillahan the young former convent girl and now second wife of the local farmer who used to deliver Mrs Connulty her eggs. There she spots a stranger to the village taking photos of the funeral that no one else seems to notice. The photographer is Florian Kilderry and he has originally come to photograph the burnt out cinema until he see’s the funeral procession. However someone else spots Florian and Miss Connulty decides he is bad news and must be kept and eye on as events unfold.

I won’t go into anymore of the plot as it would give too much away and so intricate is it that I could end up writing endlessly about the twists and turns of these wonderful often dark and compelling characters. The pasts of both Ellie and Miss Connulty are fascinating and wonderfully written and you do wonder how on earth William Trevor manages this in less than 220 pages, it is quite a feat and I can see for that  reason why the Man Booker judges have selected it.

I will admit in parts with so many characters in such short spaces of time I found it occasionally confusing and had to re-read a fair few bits, but then this isn’t the sort of book you can sit down and read in one go just because its short. You can’t rush it as you may miss important small statements with the love story that runs through it, even if I wasn’t sure about Florian myself, and the fact that what story you instantly think you may get isn’t quite what is delivered. It is truly a book you have to savour it and with characters like my very favourite Orpen Wren who is a wonderful old man with dementia that plays a very pivotal role you will want to savour every scene.  

I did really enjoy the book; will it make it into my short list for the Man Booker? Hmmm, time will tell as I still have another ten of them to read. I will say that this is a perfect summer book (as the title will suggest) and found it the perfect companion by the pool with a picnic this weekend even if as my Gran warned there were ‘a few tears before bedtime’.

Have you read any other William Trevor books? I definately want to read more of his fiction in the future and havn’t a clue where to start!

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Filed under Man Booker, Penguin Books, Review, Viking Books, William Trevor