Wednesday, June 9, 2010

How Did Book Club Go? A Discussion About Colm Tóibín's Brooklyn

It was just the kind of book club discussion that keeps things interesting--a divided jury for Brooklyn. As folks know, this novel of a young Irish woman who leaves behind her mother and sister for a job in Brooklyn received glowing reviews on publication, and was awarded the Costa Prize for fiction.

While most of the gang felt the story was a bit lighter than they hoped, and with a relatively happy ending, a minority thought the story was much sadder, and that Eilis's chosen future didn't necessarily lead to happiness. There wasn't anyone who didn't like the book (borne by Boswell's sales in paperback, a perfectly respectable 42 copies so far, putting us in the top quarter of indie bookstores on the Above the Treeline inventory system. Sorry, customers, I obsess over this.)

I had read somewhere that Tóibín did a different spin on the immigrant story; instead of being from the children and grandchildren of immigrants, Toibin's perspective was of a person whose family did not leave, and who himself has a home in the small Irish village of Enniscorthy that Eilis winds up leaving.

C. was taken by the story being similar in some ways to Lionel Shriver's The Post-Birthday World in that Eilis has two life paths laid out for her. She was struck by how young an inexperienced Eilis really was--just a sophomore.

There was some talk about how saintly many of the men were, which seemed unrealistic to several participants. It was my thought that they were just putting their best feet forward, and that we had no idea what they'd like to be when not courting.

The various minority subplots (the Jews, the Blacks, the Italians) seemed a bit light and undeveloped for some participants. G. had lived in Brooklyn at a time not too removed from the storyline. C2. had to be reminded that Brooklyn did not take place in the 1920's.

I was taken by how much the story reminded me of several of Alice McDermott's novels, only set 5-10 years early, before the families moved out to Long Island. N. thought the style reminded her of Henry James, which was funny, since she hadn't caught that Tóibín's previous novel was about Henry James.

It turned out to be a spirited hour of discussion. Next up we read Attica Locke's Black Water Rising on Monday, July 5th, 7 PM.

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