Thursday, September 26, 2013

Nice Enough

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin is an exploration of the choices available to young women at the end of World War II, and the consequences of those choices.  Eilis (apparently pronounced "Elle-ish") is a woman from Toibin's hometown of Enniscorthy in Ireland.  Enniscorthy is portrayed as a small town, with very limited options for a smart girl who is not in a rush to get married.  With the help of her sister and a friendly priest, Eilis is given a chance to move to Brooklyn and work in a store while going to school. 

Throughout the story, Eilis makes a ton of life changing decisions, but in doing so, she barely considers the consequences that her decisions will have for her.  She thinks about what the other people in her life would want for her to do, and then that is what she generally does.  Although she is free to make choices, she restricts herself to what people around her would want. 

In the years after World War II, many women must have found themselves in similar situations.  They were encouraged to work, but only until they got married.  If they wanted careers, they didn't look for a husband.  They could live apart from their families, and even in distant countries, as long as they are under the supervision of a mom-like character or a friendly priest.

Eilis is a very pliable character.  When she is in Brooklyn, she likes it well enough.  When she is in Ireland, she might as well stay.  She is struck by how her not-so-exciting life in Brooklyn seems glamorous to her neighbors who have never left Ireland.  All told, while this was a nice story, that's really all that there was to it.  It had the Jane Austen feel of a book without a lot of action, focused on whether someone is or is not in love with someone else.

Brooklyn was long listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2009.  It is also another book of my list for the Off the Shelf Challenge.

Next Up on CD:  In the Woods by Tana French

Still Reading:  Who Asked You by Terry McMillan

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