Begorrathon Review: Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín (book and movie)

In another entry for the Begorrathon 2017 Reading Ireland Month at blogs by  Raging Fluff and 746Books,  I bring you a look at the book and movie, Brooklyn.


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.

Links to lots more of the Begorrathon posts are here.

Begorrathon Review: Room by Emma Donoghue (book and movie)

My next entry for Reading Ireland Month is a look at author Emma Donoghue with a review of her book Room and a look at the movie that was made from it, screenplay also by Ms. Donoghue.

Emma Donoghue is an Irish-born writer now living in Canada so we claim her as one of ours as far as CanLit goes. She was born and grew up in Dublin where she also attended university. She was awarded a PHD from Cambridge in England and spent a few years traveling back and forth between Ireland, England and Canada but moved to London, Ontario in Canada in the late 90s where she now lives with her family.

Her 2010 novel, Room, is told from the point of view of five year old Jack and it won many awards, shortlisted for a number of others including the Man Booker prize. Room is the only one of her books I’ve read so far, but I do own a copy of her recent book The Wonder, on my bedside table.

Book Review: Room is told from the point of view of 5 year old Jack. He was born in this room and raised there and aside from what he sees on television, which isn’t “real” to him, it’s all he knows. His mother was abducted when she was 19 and has been held captive in this room which was built into a garden shed, for 7 years. The man that took her comes most nights and rapes her.

We are taken through their days and nights, what they do, what they eat, how they cope. Jack is quite happy, and he’s very smart and articulate, though his grammar and sentence structure is still that of a young child so it takes a bit to get used to it. You can read between the lines from Jack’s observations about his mother and her reactions that he doesn’t always understand her reality.

Eventually they emerge from Room and the rest of the book is about them coping with the real world, still from Jack’s point of view. The outside world isn’t “safe” and it’s vast and unknown and filled with people and is overwhelming to him. Although Jack is very close to his mother, “Ma”, you can also see that she is trying to raise him to be his own person.

I liked the book very much, and it was one I had a hard time putting down. It’s touching, sad and happy, too.

Room: released in 2015
Emma Donoghue adapted the screenplay from her novel and captured the book’s essence quite well, I thought. You can’t always get inside the characters’ heads as easily in a filmed version of a book without the dreaded voiceover and she did it. She brought Ma and Jack to life, as believable people. She drew out Ma’s fear, sadness, desperation, frustration and insecurity and Jack’s innocence and joy, fear at the new world that overwhelmed him and his curiosity about it, too as both of them adapted to freedom.

The “Room” part of the movie is all from Jack’s point of view, with some of the freedom part of the movie from Ma’s point of view as she struggles to figure out who she is, dealing with the media and her family and trying to help Jack adapt and gain his own confidence. Mostly, though it’s Jack and the child that plays him, Jacob Tremblay, does an astonishing job for one so young. Brie Larson who plays Ma aka Joy plays it just right, too, first, with Ma’s determination to take back her life or at least give Jack a chance at one and then, with the weight of guilt, media attention, and post traumatic stress overwhelming her. She won the Oscar, a Golden Globe, a Critic’s Choice, a Screen Actors’ Guild and British BAFTA award for this role and deservedly so.

Emma Donoghue’s  website.

Archive Reviews: Tana French

For my participation in the Begorrathon aka Reading Ireland Month, my first post is going to be about an Irish crime writer that I’ve enjoyed. I’ve only read three of her books but I do hope to pick up more of them.

The author is Tana French. While she was born in Ireland and lives there now, she has also lived in the United States, Malawi and Italy and she’s not only a talented writer, she’s an actress as well!

She has written six books and they are all crime fiction, based around a squad of detectives working out of a Dublin police station. Not every book involves the same detectives including Rob Ryan, Cassie Maddox,  Frank Mackey, Scorcher Kennedy, with Steven Moran and  Antoinette Conway appearing in several books. The stories all have twists and turns, secrets and lies that have to be unraveled. The plots drew me in and were all real page turners. All three of the books I read were good, solid 4 star books. Here, then, are the reviews that I posted elsewhere, on Livejournal or Goodreads.

The Likeness  (Published 2008)
Apparently this is the second book about the main character, Detective Cassie Maddox but I haven’t read the first one (yet). It doesn’t matter, they made enough references to the previous plot that you get the gist of who she is. I don’t really think i have to read it now (edit to add, but I did! see next review)

Anyway, this book takes place in and around Dublin in present day. A murdered woman is found and she looks to be Cassie’s identical twin though is not. Cassie had not recently been working on the murder squad or the undercover squad after some traumatic events and has to be persuaded to take over the woman’s life to help find the murderer.

The woman lives in a house with four graduate students who may or may not be suspects and Cassie has to find a way to fit in and figure it all out. She does fairly well thanks to both the dead woman’s mobile phone that has a lot of video that was shot of the roomies and information the police extracted about the dead woman’s life from the same roomies. The dead woman is an enigma, however, with no apparent family, friends or past so the murderer might be someone she knew from her former life.

The book is well written and it drew me in. The roommates are not completely drawn out but then, since they are strangers to Cassie and she’s trying to get to know them but not get too close to them, it works. Cassie does get drawn in to their cocoon of a life, a bit, while trying to unearth a murderer. They are all loners, people that don’t quite fit in but found each other and seem to live in their own little world, which, little by little, is developing the cracks that Cassie soon detects and you start having various suspicions along with her. It did keep my interest and the ending, while not a complete surprise, wasn’t quite what I expected either.

In The Woods: (Published 2007)
This is the first of the Murder Squad series by Tana French, but the second one I’ve read. One summer night in 1984, three children decide to camp in the woods near their home. Something happens, two of them disappear and one is left horrified but can’t remember anything. Jump forward 20 years and Dublin detective Rob Ryan has to solve a murder of a 12 year old girl, killed in the same wooded area. He and his partner, Cassie Maddox, dig for clues and have to find out if this murder is related to the past or not.

Rob becomes obsessed as the past haunts him and sends him into a tailspin. It affects his friendship with Cassie and his job. It’s a pretty good story but the issue of the past incident is never resolved which is a bit of a disappointment.

The Secret Place Published 2014
This is the fifth of the Dublin Murder Squad series and my favourite so far. I had a hard time putting this one down. It takes place nominally through the course of one day with flashbacks. A teenage girl from a private girls’ school in Dublin brings a hand made postcard to Detective Stephen Moran, whom she knew from a prior case through her father, Detective Frank Mackey. The postcard says that the writer of it knows who killed a teenage boy from a neighbouring boys’ school over a year ago. It was posted anonymously on a bulletin board in the girls school. The ambitious detective, Moran, teams up with a veteran female detective, somewhat of a lone wolf, Antoinette Conway, to head to the school to figure out what was missed during the original investigation that Conway was involved in.

They spend all day weeding through the web of lies that the teenage girls spin. The girls always trying to either protect someone else, themselves, or implicate someone else for their own reasons. As the detectives slowly peel away the lies and use bits of new, true information that they manage to eke out of the girls, we get flashbacks to the real story. There are two sets of cliques, groups of four girls each who are rival groups. One set of girls are the “popular” girls, with a leader who is in parts bully, controlling and mean and the other set of girls, to which the initial card-bearer belongs, are a close knit group, mainly going their own way from the student society in genera and a bit more on an equal footing with each other than the first group.

The characters and the teenage girl dynamic feels very real and very well written. Tana French has got inside the heads of these girls and if the teenagespeak and slang is a bit annoying, it’s only because that’s exactly how these kids would talk at that age (15/16). The only thing that lost me and which really seemed to have no bearing on anything is a small telekinetic sub-thing which may or may not have been imaginary but which was baffling and either way, served no purpose really.

So there you are, the three books I’ve read by Tana French. I really do hope I get to read more of the series (so many books, so little time!)

The Dublin Murder Squad books

Follow Ms. French: Facebook.  and  Her website.

Begorrathon 2017

ireland-month-17Normally, I try to support Canadian authors but I read anything by anyone if it’s something that interests me. There are a lot of really good Irish authors, for instance. One of my earliest Irish authors that I can recall is Maeve Binchy, who writes lovely fiction about strong women in Ireland, be it in a rural village or in busy Dublin. Her stories are heart warming with a gentle humour and I’ve always liked them.

Anyway, there are two WordPress blogs I follow, Raging Fluff and 746Books and every year for the past few years they’ve teamed up to celebrate Irish authors and the Irish culture in March and they called Reading Ireland Month or, The Begorrathon. In 2015, I participated by posting some travelogs from a bus tour I took around Ireland in 2002. Those posts start with Part 1 of the tour, here, with links to the other parts at the end of each installment. For more posts from my travel blog about Ireland, start here (the first lot of posts are the same as the tour, so you could scroll down and work up backwards).

I think I will find a few things to post about for this year’s Begorrathon. I have in mind a look at a few Irish authors  that I’ve enjoyed and will include some book reviews. I also think I’ll send them a link to a movie review I’ve done and do one or two more as well. The reviews will be published here, as well, of course.

There are links here to posts from all the participants covering all the Begorrathon topics.