Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Mini Review and F2F Report: Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

I'm going to keep the description fairly brief and dive right into talking about my book group's discussion of Brooklyn because it was a surprising discussion.

Brooklyn tells the story of Eilis, a young Irish woman with a talent for numbers. Eilis is skilled at bookkeeping and is offered a job in a small shop as a clerk. Her boss, Miss Kelly, has a system by which she keeps the best customers happy. She's strict and not a particularly nice person, but Eilis is happy to be employed. Then, a priest returns to her small village from America for a visit. He knows someone who could give Eilis a much better job with the opportunity for growth and offers to help her move to New York City. Eilis's brothers live in Liverpool and by encouraging Eilis to move to the U.S., her big sister Rose is basically sacrificing any chance she might have to marry and move away, herself. Eilis takes the opportunity to leave and gradually finds her way in life and love as a new American. But, will she be happy if she marries? And, when tragedy strikes, forcing Eilis to go home, will she ever return?

I made the mistake of assuming there wouldn't be much to talk about in F2F group because Brooklyn is such a quiet, understated book that focuses on interpersonal relationships and the everyday events through which Eilis transitions from Irish woman to immigrant worker and then becomes, without even realizing it, an American. Those small changes, though, turned out to be eminently worthy of discussion.

Among other things, we discussed:

  • How well the author, a male, got into the head of his female main character.
  • Whether or not Rose was "sacrificing herself" by staying behind to live with and care for their mother while Eilis moved to America.
  • Comparison of the jobs Eilis held in Ireland and the U.S. and how culture impacted the way the employees interacted with customers.
  • Whether or not Eilis, her mother, and her brothers were culturally conditioned to say little in their letters to each other.
  • The relationship between Eilis and Rose.
  • The relationship between Eilis and her mother.
  • Why men left Ireland to get work in England.
  • How to pronounce those tricky Irish names (there were at least 4 or 5 different ways people thought Eilis might be pronounced). 
  • Eilis's immaturity and whether or not she matured throughout the book.
  • Eilis's passivity and whether she would have gone to America at all if she hadn't been encouraged by others.
This one's a potential spoiler, so I'll turn it white and you can highlight it if you're not worried about spoilers:
  • Why Eilis went back to America, in the end, and whether or not she would have gone if there hadn't been a connection between someone in Ireland and Eilis's landlord in New York.
  • What exactly was going on between Eilis and that fellow in Ireland.
  • The cultural differences between Irish and Italian families. 
  • The cover of the book shown above - whether or not it reminded anyone of what shops used to look like in small-town America (it did; I didn't mention my hometown but there were small stores that looked very much like the cover photo when I was young and those who grew up in Vicksburg said they remembered shops that appeared similar).

Wow, look at all that! There was so much to talk about. There was also a death that we discussed but I'm trying to avoid spoilers.

Some of us were aware that a movie version of Brooklyn has been made but none of us had viewed it, so there was no basis for comparison. We all did agree that we liked the book, though, and several people said they were going to look up the movie.

Recommended - I enjoyed the book, low-key as it was, and definitely recommend it. We didn't have a show of hands but there were really no negatives brought up so I think I can safely say everyone in my book group enjoyed Brooklyn and the discussion was a lively one. While I do recommend it for book group discussion, I'd advise printing out some topics to discuss. We were fine once we got going but there was a bit of twitchy shuffling before someone spoke up and got the conversation started.

©2016 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.


  1. I've only seen the movie of this one. I want to read the book and compare. Maybe I can get my book club to read it.

    1. I want to do the reverse - watch the movie and compare. Such fun. The person who recommended the book for discussion isn't actually a member of the group, which is kind of weird but our book group is associated with the local heritage center and it was someone who works for them. I'm curious why she thought it would be a good discussion book. It was, but I never would have guessed! Hope you can talk your book club into reading it. It does really add to the reading experience, getting to discuss a book.

  2. Anonymous7:07 PM

    That's a, fair enough summary of many major points. Apparently, bringing a list of teacher-style questions printed from the Internet (as one participant did) is also a great way to stimulate discussion.

    Jeanine H.

    1. Thanks, Jeanine. I tried to hit as many discussion points as I could remember. Yes, discussion questions usually do help. There have only been a couple times I thought the discussion questions were bizarre and perplexing rather than helpful. Even then, they tend to at least get us revved up enough to find other points to discuss.

  3. I think the real reason I haven't read this is because it is a quiet book and that is not really where my reading has been. I have been curious about it, though, so I am glad your group all enjoyed it!

    1. It's funny, I usually skirt around the quieter, less plot-heavy books, too. But, I've read several that I really enjoyed, this year. I had a copy of Brooklyn from when it was newly published. S & S sent it to me and I was always intrigued. I even know exactly where I kept it in the old house. I put it in a prominent place thinking I wanted to read it, soon (that was like 6 years ago, maybe longer) and then I kept burying myself in ARCs and putting it off. I'm glad the group gave me the nudge I needed to finally read it!

  4. I want to read this one someday. It sounds interesting.

    1. I hope you do read it, Jeane. I thought it was well worth the time and I'm glad my book group discussed it.

  5. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, but now that I've seen it, I don't know if I'll go back and read the book. Sounds like a winner for book clubs!

    1. It's a good book, Les, but if you're satisfied with the movie, that's great. I love to compare book to movie so I'm planning to see if I can locate it on Prime. If not, I guess I'll try to watch it when I go visit the kids in New Jersey, since they have Netflix.

  6. I haven't read the book or seen the movie, but you made me very curious.

    Brooklyn sounds quite good.

    Sounds as if your book club had a great discussion. I love when there is a lot to discuss.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Silver's Reviews
    My Blog

    1. We did have a terrific discussion and I thought it was a very good read. I should add that I happen to be in a wonderful group so it's kind of unusual for a discussion to fall flat but it definitely exceeded my expectations. I didn't realize just how much there was to discuss, I suppose because the storyline was so subdued. I was happy to be wrong!

      Thanks so much for dropping by to read and comment, Elizabeth!


Thank you for visiting my blog! I use comment moderation because apparently my blog is a spam magnet. Don't worry. If you're not a robot, your comment will eventually show up and I will respond, with a few exceptions. If a comment smacks of advertising, contains a dubious link or is offensive, it will be deleted. I love to hear from real people! I'm a really chatty gal and I love your comments!