Brooklyn (2009) by Colm Tóibín is a little slice of life telling the story of a shy young Irish woman, Eilis, who emmigrates to Brooklyn in the early 1950s. She’s drifting through life, unable to find a good job. Her sister and local priest find an opportunity for her to give her a new start. She is to sail to America, to Brooklyn, New York. We follow her on the journey as she settles into a boarding house run by a commanding landlady and is set up with a job. A nearby Priest looks out for her and she works in a local department store for a strict supervisor. She decides to take a night school course that the priest finds for her, in order to get a bookkeeping qualification and ends up meeting a fella. Life is starting to look pretty good.
But she returns to Ireland after her sister dies and things conspire to keep her there including the promise of a good job and the temptation of a new boyfriend.
But all of this really wasn’t in Eilis’s life plan, something she doesn’t really have. It just happens to her almost by chance, and when she can’t decide what to do, she just goes with the flow. When she can’t decide to speak up and speak her mind even though we can read that she most certainly does have an opinion, she says nothing or does nothing. It’s not really even a coming of age type book because she never really comes to any particular realization, just takes the path of least resistance through her life which is why she ends up getting tangled up with two men. I found the character of Eilis to be weak and submissive and not very interesting. She had no spark at all.
It’s a nice little story, well written, but you get the feeling that the rest of her life is going to be more of the same, never doing or saying what she wants and letting everyone else decide for her, no matter which side of the Atlantic she ultimately chooses.
The movie Brooklyn was released in 2015 and was adapted for the screen by Nick Hornby. It stars Saoirse Ronan, Domhall Gleeson and Emory Cohen with supporting performances from Jim Broadbent and Julie Walters. A top cast. How can you go wrong?
The movie Eilis seems a tiny bit more confident than the book Eilis, though still not a force to be reckoned with as far as taking her life in her hands. She starts her life in Brooklyn trying to adapt to the new culture, while feeling homesick for Ireland. Little by little, and with the added attraction of a handsome, polite Italian man, she is making that life for herself until she has to go home for a funeral. Once there, she seems to fall in with another man just as easily as she fell in with the first one though she’s not chasing these fellas.
As in the book, things happen and she goes with the flow in spite of herself and her better judgement. Will she return to the U.S. to Brooklyn, New York, a career that she’s building for herself, and the man that loves her or will she take the chance on a life in the small village where she grew up, living up to everyone’s expectations, with a man that .
The movie captures the time period of the early 50s in both locations. Montreal stood in for most of the Brooklyn scenes. The lovely Saoirse Ronan is very good as Eilis and I’ve heard her in interviews later where she’s said that she identified very strongly to Eilis’s situation, leaving home to establish her life elsewhere and struggling with homesickness. Movie Eilis has a bit more about her than book Eilis but both versions are shy, not very forth coming and a bit of a doormat over all. Emory Cohen as Tony and Domhall Gleeson as Jim are both good in parts that really aren’t fleshed out all that much. But the story isn’t theirs.