I just finished reading Colm Toibin’s novel, Brooklyn. It's a coming of age novel about a single woman named Eilis who leaves her working class home in Ireland in the early 1950's to emigrate to America. She emigrates not so much because she wants to but more because the rest of her family thinks it's a good idea.
The young protagonist takes a job in a Brooklyn department store and a room in a boarding home for single women. Lonely and homesick, she struggles to fit in with her motley crue of fellow boarders. Eventually she meets a man. A relationship ensues but is it love she is feeling or escape from lonliness? A crisis takes Eilis back to Ireland where she is forced to make a decision that will forever alter the course of her life.
I thoroughly enjoyed every page of this concise and finely tuned story. I love reading about immigrants, their years of transition, the origin of various customs and values, their contribution to America's ever evolving melting pot. And for some reason I'm drawn to the Irish culture, in part, I suppose, because of several close friendships with Irish Catholic girls during my high school and college years.
In Brooklyn, it's easy to root for the heroine, Eilis, and identify with her uncertainty in trying to decide between first love and friendly affection. At times she seems a little too passive, however. I felt frustrated and at times incredulous at Eilis' lack of self advocacy which builds into a potentially ruinous situation. It felt a little bit like watching the heroine of a scary movie doing all the wrong victim-y things. Don't answer the door! Why are you running deeper into the woods? Calamity so easily avoided, at least that's the angle from the cheap seats.
At the same time I could relate to Eilis' indecision, her naive hope that a sticky problem, with a bit of denial, will go away on it's own . I could also see how the central conflicts in this story were a product of the traditional female role and expectations placed on women throughout history. Women not in full control of their destiny or, at least, not taking control. Women who place the feelings of others above their own only to discover the flaw in this reasoning when it's too late.