29 January 2016

Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin

This book will sneak up on you. It seems like a perfectly typical Coming to America story -- a very pleasant one, but totally stock and largely forget-able -- until you suddenly realize that it is a quiet, subtle, but utterly brilliant character study. You have to marvel at Toibin's ability to create this woman who is intelligent, tough, and independent, but whose life never seems to be entirely under her own control. We often admire novels for showing us how a given character is a product of History -- this one presents us with a woman who is trying to find her way among a thicket of social norms and expectations. Not in that dreary, oppressed by sexism and conformism sort of way, but in a far more subtle, and interesting, push and pull of expectation, ambition, convenience, and inertia. So much of your life is barely up to you, even -- or perhaps especially -- the seemingly most 'major' parts of it. The brilliance of Toibin's book is that he manages to illuminate the way that even the most strong-willed and independent person can be carried along by life, taken in unexpected directions.

No comments: