Brooklyn

The first book of my summer reads was chosen mainly because I had actually seen this movie first and liked. The book was first published in 2009 by the celebrated Irish author Colm Tóibín. I got finished in three days and I wish I had taken longer to savour it, second readings never having the same thrill.

Tóibín captures the idiosyncratic language of rural Ireland, through the dialogue of the characters, that reminded me of listening to my own older relations discussing the humdrum events of a small town. The Hibernian English and the poetically awkward phrasing kept the sense of provincial Irishness about this story set in 1950s Brooklyn present.

The story begins with Eilis and her depleted family in Enniscorthy, County Wexford facing the challenges of the “wasted years” when Ireland struggled in vain against emigration and unemployment while it desperately tried to find its role in the post war era as an independent state. In a situation similar to many young people of Ireland over the last few years, Eilis’s sister Rose suggests and organises for Eilis to go to Brooklyn, New York to find a better life than that available at home.

The story follows her voyage across the Atlantic and her settlement into the Irish community in Brooklyn, still heavily tied to the Catholic conservatism and community connections that emerged in the group of immigrants. <del>Ireland has only ever really had three degrees of separation.</del>  She suffers from home sickness and longs to go home to Enniscorthy, and so the parish priest along with her boss and landlady encourage her to keep busy with various pursuits.

At a local parish dance (the exact kind of dance I think my Nana believed I was going to every time she saw me heading out on a Saturday – it wasn’t the same, she never really grasped that) she meets a boy called Tony, the son of Italian immigrants. The story follows their budding romance which is abruptly interrupted by a death which calls Eilis home.

On her return to Ireland, Eilis notices many differences in how she is perceived by the people of Enniscorthy and she realises that her original reason for leaving Ireland, the lack of opportunities financially and romantically no longer exist. She questions her decisions and which future she really wants, a life in Brooklyn with Tony or a life as the wife of a respectable gentleman in Enniscorthy, close to her mother and working as a book keeper.

The characters are brilliantly written, calling up images of characters familiar to anyone who has lived in a small town in Ireland.

Eilis is likeable and sympathetic but is revealed to be more perturbed as the book goes on. She is flighty and inconsistent; traits I usually find irritating in main characters. However, she fits into the image of a young woman from 1950s Ireland I have built up in my mind growing up with vastly different expectations and ideas about the world than I can truly relate to, due to parochial and conservative ideas that permeated rural Ireland at that time.

Her mother and sister on the surface have a close relationship, but we become aware through the story that Rose is manoeuvring to prevent Eilis from having that stereotypical image of the youngest child in an Irish house hold, to whom the responsibility of caring for an elderly, widowed mother falls to.

Tóibín’s writing is subtle, funny and focuses on the emotional and personal weight of scenes rather than the action, which builds up the characters in a beautifully realistic way.

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Farewell 7a

So yesterday Phil and I cleaned out and locked up the first flat we lived in together for the last time. The amount of dust that had accumulated in cupboards and presses was impressive.

Despite it being the smallest flat on the earth, I will miss the privacy and comfort of having our own place to live. A friend told me a few years ago “this is what you do in London, first, you live somewhere alone and then you live somewhere nicer, but you have to give something up; privacy, location, price… something has to go.”

So we have given up privacy but the new location is about the same, and the price is excellent. Also, our new place definitely has more room, but then that would not have been hard to achieve.


Once we had scrubbed, scoured, dusted, swept, mopped, packed and moved we spent a bit of time exploring our new local area. I have always for the last two years thought that this area was not that nice, however, so far we have located the local hipster bar, complete with craft beers, a gin menu, gourmet burgers and pizzas with unusual toppings.

Yesterday we found another local pub which brought on a wave of nostalgia for Sunday pub grub in McCarthy’s of Fethard, with tartan upholstery, worn pink carpet and shades of green that have never been viewed as particularly attractive. The food, however, was delicious, the service was friendly and the vibe was pleasantly local, the kind of place families take their kids when they also want to meet other adults.

I curled up with a pint and a book. All in all a well spent Sunday.

Here’s Phil, learning about beer.

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Summer’s here.

After a year of SATs related stress, the summer is finally here. I’ve embraced this by dying my hair lavender, buying a stack of new books and moving house.

My new house feels very London. Phil and I bring the total number of people in the house to nine, but luckily the house is enormous and we have our own living room attached to our very cute attic bedroom. We still have our own space which is considerably larger than in our previous microscopic flat in West Ealing.

Holidays back to Ireland are looming and I’m looking forward to a few weeks of Tipperary flavored chill and catching up with family and friends.

The next few days, however, are going to consist mainly of relaxing, reading and exploring while trying to find free things in London.

And yoga… once I have finished unpacking and have some actual floor space.

 

Today’s simple pleasure. Lemon and lavender cake is incredible.

Starting off my summer reading.

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