When I first finished reading this book, I didn’t really know what to think. A girl moves away, falls in love, gets carried away. Goes back home and falls in love again. Realises she has to choose, and neither option is without consequence or heartache. Chooses duty.
It’s an odd thing, and I think it threw me – resonated with me – so much because I think I understand a little of her dilemma. You pick a path, but it’s not until you’re well and truly on it that you really get a sense of whether it’s the right one or not.
I can remember when I was a teenager I was terrified of making the wrong decision. What if I picked the wrong course, the wrong university, and ended up in a life I hated? I asked my priest, “How do you decide what to do with your life?”
He said, “Life isn’t one big choice that you make once. It’s a series of small choices that you have to make again and again, and that’s how you pick the right path.”
I was seventeen then, and I’m twenty-five now, but I still think about that conversation all the time. Every time I think something is careening out of my control, I remind myself of the hundreds of tiny decisions I made to get where I am, and the hundreds of choices available to me from here on out.
Brooklyn is about a girl called Eilis, born and raised in a small town in 1950s Ireland. She has a head for numbers and dreams of being a bookkeeper, and when a local expat living in Brooklyn hears of her skill and her ambition, he offers to set her up with a job and a home in his new city. Having never lived away from home, Eilis is understandably naive and a little scared, but nevertheless chooses adventure and her dream over being stuck behind the counter of a pretentious store in her hometown.
Once in Brooklyn, Eilis thrives, doing all the things that single girls in the 1950s did. She works, studies bookkeeping, goes to the parish dances on a Friday night – and falls in love, in that heart-tripping, head-over-heels way one does when everything is new and bright and you’re too afraid of losing it to do anything else.
Colm Toibin’s writing is lovely, deliberate and sedate. The praise on the cover of Brooklyn suggested that his writing was quite moving, but I found it to be too deliberate and removed for that. I loved all the little details he included, the colour of a coat or the sensation of a touch, the heat and cool and rush of making out in the ocean. He’s definitely an author I want to read more of, and I have a suspicion that as I read more I’ll grow to love his writing as well.