America is peopled, for the most part, by the descendants of immigrants who had the resolve, the daring and the detachment to leave behind the places and people they had formerly known. But Eilis isn’t such a person; detachment isn’t part of her makeup. It has been thrust on her by women who are as attached to home and family as she is … In tracking the experience, at the remove of half a century, of a girl as unsophisticated and simple as Eilis — a girl who permits herself no extremes of temperament, who accords herself no right to self-assertion — Tóibín exercises sustained subtlety and touching respect. He shows no condescension for Eilis’s passivity but records her cautious adventures matter-of-factly, as if she were writing them herself in her journal.
The period feeling of Brooklyn is genuine and impressive … Eilis gets off to a good start at the store – she may be unassuming, but she's also competent and resourceful – but then she receives a batch of letters from home, and suddenly her head is filled with images of what she has left behind … The portrait Tóibín paints of Brooklyn in the early '50s is affectionate but scarcely dewy-eyed; Eilis encounters discrimination in various forms – against Italians, against blacks, against Jews, against lower-class Irish – and finds Manhattan more intimidating than alluring. Tóibín's prose is graceful but never showy, and his characters are uniformly interesting and believable.
In his portrayal of an ethnic enclave, a hyphenated America, Tóibín is broaching one of the big perennial subjects of American fiction…Brooklyn is unusual in telling the story from the immigrant’s perspective, the more so since Tóibín’s protagonist is female, young, unattached and Irish … It is what Eilis cannot put in a letter that gives Brooklyn its narrative bite...But Tóibín can tell us, and he does so at often hilarious length … It may be that Tóibín’s most significant gift is a very basic and mysterious one: he creates fictional worlds in which readers find it easy to believe … This ability to vivify imagined worlds is central to Brooklyn’s success. So long as we remain with Eilis Lacey in New York, her new world engrosses and enthrals us.
Eilis is almost a parody of 1950s femininity. She’s sweet; curvy; attractive but not alarmingly so; good at school but not ambitious; and above all, biddable. Throughout the novel, she does what she’s told … Eilis, with her sheeplike docility, would be easy to mock, but Tóibín absolutely refuses to condescend to her … Tóibín carefully details Eilis’s life, first in Enniscorthy, then in Brooklyn, quietly commemorating the everyday by his close attention … The ending of Brooklyn is a masterpiece of quiet reflection, bringing up deep emotions submerged under the placid exterior and giving the novel an ache that will linger for days.
It is an enormously absorbing, nuanced read that steeps us in its character's world - and gradually surprises us with its moral resonance … Tóibín vividly describes Eilis' miserable third-class Atlantic crossing, the wonders and adjustments of her new life at Mrs. Kehoe's all-female boardinghouse in Brooklyn, and her job as a salesgirl at Bartocci & Co. department store on Fulton Street … Eilis is so naive she doesn't know about the Holocaust, and when homesickness hits, she doesn't understand what ails her … [Brooklyn] soars in its deeply effective final section...Tóibín captures the immigrant's pull between two worlds.
Tóibín offers a scaled-down work, the formally restrained account of a young woman's ragged, almost unconscious struggle for independence and self-expression … Tóibín is strong at depicting the way restrained passion works … Tóibín, writing about the crippling power of conformity, bursts the bounds he has established for his story … Form echoes theme in the novel's final 50 pages, as Eilis acts in ways that challenge all we thought we (and she, and everyone) knew of her … Thrown upon her own devices, she seems heartbreakingly herself at last.
Colm Tóibín's Brooklyn, about a young Irish woman coming to New York in 1952, is one of those magically quiet novels that sneak up on readers and capture their imaginations … He employs no page-turning plot devices. The only touches of drama and suspense are saved until the end … It's a classic American story about an immigrant's lonely, unspoken yearnings and about feeling ‘this was the only life she was going to have, a life away from home’ … Brooklyn he creates the purest form of fiction, a small world that employs few references to the real world. It transcends time and place. It leaves readers wondering if Eilis is making the right life for herself, the same question we all face.
Tóibín’s treatment of the early adulthood of Eilis Lacey, a quiet girl from the town of Enniscorthy who accepts a kindly priest’s sponsorship to work and live in America, is characterized by a scrupulously precise domestic realism … Tóibín fashions a compelling characterization of a woman caught between two worlds, unsure almost until the novel’s final page where her obligations and affections truly reside … Tóibín is adept at suggestive understatement, best displayed in lucid portrayals of cultural interaction and conflict in a fledgling America still defining itself.