Friday, October 09, 2009
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
This much-ballyhooed new novel from Colm Toibin is another purely perfectly-pitched narrative, but it did not hit me nearly as hard as his earlier novels, particularly The Master, Toibin's channeling of Henry James in a ficitional omniscient memoir.
The good things are great: Toibin feels more and more to me like a more sensitive Hemingway, his sentences are transparently clean and there is not a trace of authorial voice intrusion. Everything in the books sounds exactly like something thought or said by one of the characters. He writes small, perfect sentences, and they build up incredible incremental pressure within characters, eventually delivering powerful change.
America via New York via Brooklyn is lovingly rendered, as a real place, already grown in many ways and still growing. The novel's protganist, a young woman named Eilisa, emigrates to America at the urging of her beautiful, vivacious older sister Rose and their widowed mother, who are both anxious to do for Eilis what they can't do for themselves: fundamentally change their lives. And Eilis, passive, quiet and aching to please, accepts the mission, sufffering a perilous crossing and a lonely first year in a rooming house in Brooklyn, working as a "floor worker" at a large department store.