Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

Originally published: April 29, 2009 (my birthday)

I was at a train station, serious delays in every direction and I would not be leaving anytime soon. To top off my bad luck, my kindle had run out of battery. It was time to purchase a real, paper book.

I perused the bestsellers in WHSmiths and found Brooklyn. I had seen the film advertised and as always I prefer to read the book before watching the motion picture. The blurb on the back wasn’t exactly captivating, but it had won the Costa novel award in 2009 and had been short and long listed for a few other awards since. It seemed like an easy read that would help me pass the time.

It is set in 1950’s Ireland and is the story of a young girl, Ellis,  who has grown up in a small rural town with her mum and sister (and a few brothers who have since moved away). She has no real prospects until an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor her in New York where she will be able to live, work and study for a better future.

She travels to New York by ship, and has a bumpy ride. She finds a lodging with some other similar minded women, a job in a department store, an evening course and eventually love. But, as with all soppy stories there is also another man, this one all the way back in Ireland.

It is basically the story of Ellis growing up and having to choose between two boys. I would say it is half interesting and a very tame read. There was one dramatic plot twist which I didn’t see coming and actually upset me a little. But I soon go over it and realized I was back in the monotony of this read. This book is exactly the reason why I tend to avoid the WHSmiths bestsellers.

If you want an easy holiday read about young love, dances and courting then please…be my guest!

3 star


Brick Lane

Brick Lane

Brick Lane by Monica Ali

The story of an arranged marriage which sees a young woman, Nazneen,  living in a remote village of Goriphur in Bangladesh taking from her home town and sent to marry a 40 year old Bangladeshi man, Chanu, living in London.  It alternates between the present, the flashbacks of Nazneen’s childhood and letters between her and her sister, Hasina.

Brick lane has won countless awards and nominated for even more and I can 100% see that these were very much deserved.  Ali has a beautiful, intricate writing style that makes you feel like you are in the story absorbing the array of mixed herbs and spices, fondling the silk fabrics and slouching in the faux leather sofa observing the family’s financial and social difficulties.  The book allows the reader into a world I would never ordinarily have been privy too, that of a Muslim immigrant.  Ali draws so many social stereotypes and walks a thin line between racism and reality. So much of it I doubted was true, like Chanu believing that white people were “ignorant types” and how he is here just to take our money and leave….and yet there it is, written in a book that is not deliberately trying to be controversial.

The book spans decades and covers a lot politically, it includes world events and far eastern troubles and it is undeniably accomplished with style, knowledge and pride. But I cannot help but award Brick Lane with only 4 stars.  This is because Ali’s strength is also her downfall, too much content. I felt as though I had watched a whole years worth of soap operas and had all sorts of dramas thrown at me.  Then again, perhaps that is the point, that life is not easy and that this amount of hardship and trauma is real for so many people.

My favourite part of the book was the end “this is England, we can do what we want”.  Which is true, we are lucky to have freedom and rights and that is no more prevalent than after having read this book.

4 star