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Eilis

September 20, 2012 by Reader's Connection

Brooklyn

She hated it when Patty or Diana paid too much attention to her. She was the new girl, and the youngest, and they could not stop giving her advice, or making criticisms or comments. She wondered how long it would go on for, and was trying to let them know how little appreciated their interest was by smiling faintly at them when they spoke or, a few times, especially in the morning, by looking at them vacantly as though she did not understand a word they said.

Early 1950′s: Eilis Lacey has just immigrated to Brooklyn from Enniscorthy, Ireland, not because she wanted to but because of hard Irish times. She is living in a boarding house, works in a department store, studies bookkeeping, and begins to date an Italian fellow.

That may sound uneventful, but Colm Tóibín’s novel Brooklyn does a wonderful job of capturing this young woman’s reactions to the world around her, and of evoking another era. I’ve never read a more involving account of homesickness–or of seasickness on a voyage, come to think of it. And when Bartocci’s store starts selling Red Fox stockings, you are there at an historical moment.

“Coloured women want Red Fox stockings and we are selling them . . . ”
. . . “But the Red Fox stockings will be apart, away from the other normal stockings,” Miss Fortini said. “At least at first. And you two will be at that counter, Miss Lacey and Miss Delano, and your job is to pretend that it’s no big deal.”

Eilis, a new name for me, is pronounced ī-lish or ā-lish. It’s the Gaelic form of Elizabeth. I would give you an audio link to an interview with the author, and let you hear him pronounce it, but the interviewer reveals way too much about what happens with Eilis.

And that’s unfortunate, because Eilis is great company–perceptive, quietly funny, assertive when she thinks she should be/can be, good with numbers, if that matters–and you need to make this journey with her, rather than hearing about it from some radio guy.

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