I've refrained from mentioning the B word so far this year but it's impossible not to be thinking about the Booker prize long list with current reading, so many big hitters giving us great big books at the moment and though Colm Toibin's Brooklyn is not a door-stop it's a huge book just the same.
Would I be blessing it with the dovegreyreader Booker curse if I said it must surely be in with a chance? That's not an oiginal thought from me, I think plenty of people will agree.
Perhaps not a curse if I compute the odds using The Booker Winner Prediction Formula, unbroken since 2005 of Ireland - India - Ireland - India...
There are few books, if any, that I start reading and am suddenly consumed by an overwhelming urge to turn to the final page before I've finished to know the ending, but when I reached p200 of Brooklyn by Colm Toibin I was sore afraid and mightily tempted just to take a very quick peek...the minutest accidental flit of the page to glimpse a couple of words perhaps that would give me the reassurance I was craving.
But it's something I just couldn't countenance, I'm not sure actually that I've ever done it, though I've known people who read the final page of every book before they even begin. But I could have joined them with this book because I reached a point when I knew that if this wasn't going to end as I wanted and needed it to my day would be ruined, in fact frankly, my week would be irretrievably sunk.
So that perhaps gives you some small idea of quite how involved I had become with the life of young Eilis Lacey who, unable to find work in 1950s Ireland, is hustled by her well-meaning family into heading out to New York where Father Flood, a Catholic priest and friend of the family, has found her work in Bartocci's department store and lodgings with County Wexford exile, Mrs Kehoe.
It is a given, Eilis has no choice, no say, she will go.
'...she felt she was being singled out for something for which she was not in any way prepared...'
Uprooted from her close-knit community of family and friends and enduring a nightmarish Atlantic crossing, Eilis settles
as best she can into Brooklyn life under the watchful eyes of Father
Flood and landlady Mrs Kehoe, who become the unlikely unofficial in
loco parentis moral arbiters in Eilis's new life. The influence and
control of the Catholic church can be exerted from hearth and home to
anywhere in the world it would seem, all via a network of friends and
acquaintances who voice their disapproval in manifold glances and
actions over Eilis's every move. Initial euphoria at strange new freedoms are quickly tempered by a
feeling of despondency that is manifestly homesickness and Eilis must somehow come to terms with her new life.
For the briefest of moments Brooklyn reminded me of Netherland for its outsider offering a view of New York, but Netherland was a book that I didn't get on with as well as Mr Obama and that was for its ability to exclude me from that city's life, and how different my experience of New York has been viewed through the eyes of Eilis.
Colm Toibin mediates the entire unfaltering narrative quite brilliantly through Eilis's thoughts. We know nothing about anyone or anything other than that focalized through Eilis, it is Eilis who reveals everything and perhaps that's why Brooklyn became such a consistently involving and ultimately moving read for me.
There are countless moments of minute observation that resonated.
All those who had Saturday jobs in shops put your hands up.
Woolworth's for me and how many times did I lay my head on the pillow on a Saturday night, close my eyes and all I could see and hear was my cash till ringing up 2/6d and people thrusting their Pick& Mix at me for weighing or their light bulbs for testing or asking whether the seed potatoes were Ailsa Craigs or Arran Pilots.
It was just the same for Eilis at Bartocci's possibly minus the Ailsa Craigs etc,
'For each day, she thought, she needed a whole other day to contemplate what had happened and store it away, get it out of her system so that it did not keep her awake at night or fill her dreams with flashes of what had actually happened and other flashes of that had nothing to do with anything familiar, but were full of rushes of colour or crowds or people, everything frenzied and fast.'
Slowly she finds her feet and with her growing confidence Eilis meets Tony and...
Sorry that's your plot-lot and nor am I going to tell you whether on reaching the end my entire week was ruined or salvaged, but by the end, and this novel is short in comparison to others out there right now, regardless of outcomes I could have happily managed much much more of Colm Toibin's writing.
That feeling in itself, when I turn the final page of a book, serves to remind me of the less is more mantra and propels me hopelessly into a strange cycle of circular thinking.
How the skill of the writer is as much in knowing what not to say, what not to give me, how to spare those extra 200 pages in order to make me want them, but if I had them I'd doubtless be saying I didn't want them.
It's messy, muddled thinking but this book is definitely not in the least bit messy or the slightest fraction muddled, it's pitch-perfect neat and I loved it.