Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Will they, won’t they? Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn follow-up brings Eilis back to Ireland with unfinished business

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Long Island begins with a plot bombshell – and with 15 years separating these novels, there is a key shift in the gender dynamics between the lead characters in this twisty tale of small-town Irish life

Saoirse Ronan as Eilis and Domhnall Gleeson as Jim in Brooklyn

In Colm Tóibín’s Long Island, you expect a thoughtful pace, since this is a follow up to 2009’s Brooklyn, a novel that depends on slow accumulations of nuance for its shape. But by the second page there is a plot bombshell and a major domestic row, involving dinner getting tipped on to the floor. The meal is a stew, a telling cultural signifier in this Irish-Italian household. The action is happening 20 years after the events of Brooklyn; Eilis Lacey is now in her mid-forties, married to Tony, with two late-teenaged children.

Brooklyn was a departure for Tóibín, dealing with a young Irish woman’s emigration from Enniscorthy to Brooklyn, and her subsequent romantic choice between a local Wexford man and an Italian American. It is a marriage plot book, unlike anything Tóibín had offered before. Coming soon after The Master, his weighty fictional portrait of writer Henry James, its feminine style attracted much comment. This was Tóibín writing “women’s fiction”. Had it been produced by Caroline Tóibín, it would have been dismissed as chick lit, and relegated to the small reviews section in the sidebars of literary pages.

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