Brooklyn – Colm Tóibín

 Long listed for the Booker prize 2009

Brooklyn is a gentle story about a young woman emigrating from a small town in Ireland to Brooklyn in the 1950s.

The writing is very simple and the plot basic, but this meant it could be read very quickly. The book captures the nostalgia of someone who leaves their home and the culture-shock they encounter when moving to a new country.

I found the book too gentle for my tastes, but I can see that it would appeal to a lot of people. The story is one I’ve heard many times before and although the writing is carefully controlled it didn’t offer anything that I hadn’t seen before.

The characterisation was also a bit flat for me. The central character, Eilis, didn’t display any strong emotions. The story was revealed through her observations and she just seemed to be pulled along by the plot rather than taking an active part in it. I prefer my characters to display a bit more strength or emotion than she did.

Overall I was a bit under-whelmed by this book and would only recommend it to those who enjoy books with a gentle plot.


I have heard great things about Colm Tóibín, but this is the first of his books which I have read.

Have you read any of his other books?

Are they written in a similar way to this?

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  1. Claire says:

    Jackie, so far this is the only one of his books that I have read but I do want to read more.

    I think I was in the mood for gentle when I read it and I empathised with it. I think it is too gentle to proceed to the Booker shortlist. It isn’t original and, as I said in my review, is very much an old story that is being told in an understated way. Not groundbreaking in the least but … gentle.

    I agree that Ellis was passive and lacked any real characterisation.

    This book, for me, was an exceptionally good sketch, when sometimes we want to look at a sketch and not a vivid, thought-provoking, fully-formed painting – does that make sense?!

    1. Jackie says:

      I was surprised that it made it onto the long list. It is so understated and lacks originality and emotion.

      It was OK and I see what you mean about a sketch. I’m not sure I’d have the patience to sit through the painting version of this book!

  2. Meghan says:

    I do tend to like quiet and gentle books, but it looks like this isn’t the first to read off the longlist! I’ll keep it in mind for the future though.

    1. Jackie says:

      The Little Stranger might be a good one to start with, but if you like quiet books then there is no reason not to start with this one!

  3. Sandy says:

    Claire is right, sometimes after war, seeping wounds, lice (which always seem to creep into every story I read), abuse, etc., gentle is nice. They don’t tend to stick with you long, however.

    1. Jackie says:

      You’re right, but there is a fine line between gentle and boring. I like to get away from the wars by reading gentle books about other cultures – for example Lanterns on their Horns, was quite a gentle book set in India, but I learnt all sorts of things about their traditions and thought processes. This book didn’t teach me anything. I’m beginning to think 3.5 stars was too high!!

      1. Claire says:

        Sometimes it is refreshing to read something that is gentle, less taxing, and a linear approach to the story.

        I didn’t find it boring, just simple. I identified with some of it though, which helped.

        1. Jackie says:

          I think I just have a much lower boredom threshold than most!

  4. Beth F says:

    Gentle is good sometimes. I’ll file this one in the back of brain; sounds like something to pick up if I see it on a sale table or at a flea market.

    1. Jackie says:

      Good luck with your search!

  5. Diane says:

    Great revie Jackie. My DIL loved this one. I need to try it myself.

    1. Jackie says:

      I look forward to hearing what you think of it.

  6. Steph says:

    I’ve heard of this author, but haven’t read anything by him. I think his name keeps cropping up in terms of blurbs he’s written for books I’ve been picking up and reading!

    Based on your review, I’m not sure that this is the one I would start with. Sounds like you weren’t really taken with it, and it doesn’t sound like it would grip me. As you all have said, gentle can be nice, but you really have to be in the right mood for it.

    1. Jackie says:

      I wouldn’t advise starting with this one, but as I haven’t read any others I can’t say which would be best – let me know if you find a good one!

  7. Molly says:

    I have not read any of the author’s other works, and I do anticipate reading this one — sometime. I appreciate the very honest review and when I am in the mood for a “gentle” read, I will know that this will be the book to fit the bill.

    1. Jackie says:

      Yes – if you’re fed up of graphic scenes and violence it is time to pick this one up!

  8. Simon S says:

    Soon as have actually finished this I will come back and comment, promise, so maybe next week!

    1. Jackie says:

      OK – see you then!

  9. kimbofo says:

    I have this in my TBR and am greatly looking forward to reading it. Toibin is one of Ireland’s most accomplished writers, and has been described as McGahern’s natural successor, which is high praise indeed.

    I highly recommend his Blackwater Lightship, a truly wonderful book. See my review here:

    1. Jackie says:

      He is a very skilled writer, and Blackwater Lightship does sound more interesting than this one. Thanks for the link to your review.

  10. cbjames says:

    I just reread my review of The Master which was also on the Booker list. I gave it four out of five stars, back when I gave stars. I said it was an excellent book, rich in detail. A book you could lose yourself in. But I also said that once you put it down for the night there was little compelling you to pick it back up again. The events and the emotions were so subtle that they could easily be missed altogether.

    This sounds like just what you mean when you call the plot “gentle.”

    1. Jackie says:

      The Master sounds very different from this. I would never describe Brooklyn as being rich in detail – it is a very simple book. It is possible that the emotions were so subtle I missed them, but I don’t think there is enough content for me to be able to lose myself in this one. I’d be interested to read his others though, to see how similar they are.

  11. CarolineC says:

    I havn’t tried this author before and have Brooklyn on my tbr. I quite like a gentle read now and then and aim to read it soon.

    1. Jackie says:

      Caroline – sorry I missed your comment. If you like a gentle read, then I’m sure you’ll enjoy this book. Let me know what you think when you’ve read it.

  12. Samantha says:

    As you may have read at my blog, I really loved this book though I think I have a bit of an “Irish fiction addiction”! I found that within “all the space” left by Toibin my mind ran rampant and I think I filled in the dots in a way. At the end of the novel I kept thinking about the characters, their motivations, their fate and what could have happened to them all if one tiny thing or decision had changed in their lives.

    1. Jackie says:

      I was pleased to hear that you enjoyed it. I don’t have an Irish fiction addiction!! I prefer more exotic book locations – I think the gentleness and the fact I know so much about this period in history meant that it just didn’t excite me enough. I look forward to your thoughts on the rest of the Bookers.


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