I wanted to like this novel, because the history rings true and the characters are sympathetic, but ultimately the main character is just too passive, only ever really doing things others have set up for her, and not following through even when she does have interests outside the laid-out-path. Luckily for her, even the people she doesn’t particularly like only ever seem to push her into what’s likely to be best for her. Basically, it’d be a very sweet family history to retell and read, but really doesn’t have enough going for it as a novel for me to want to read it again. I didn’t even much like her by the end.
In summary, Eilis is the younger daughter of an Enniscorthy family of five in the early 1950s. Her three brothers have all gone to England to work, while her elder sister Rose, the only member of the family to have found a decent job at home, keeps her and their widowed mother. Eilis is doing some bookkeeping classes, but hasn’t found a job. At the beginning of the novel she is out-of-the-blue offered a few hours work in a local shop (Eilis is never proactive), and then a few months later Rose arranges for her to be offered a job in Brooklyn via a parish priest there while he’s on holiday home in Enniscorthy. Father Flood not only arranges her job and accomodation, he looks after her all the time she’s in New York, first suggesting she continue with her bookkeeping/accountancy training, then taking her to register for night classes when she hasn’t got the gumption to do so. Seeing that she hasn’t made friends or family connections he gets her volunteering in church events, and checks out the young man she meets at the Friday night dances he’s arranged in the church hall. Not that I’m complaining about that – Father Flood is a caring gentleman who looks after his parishioners – but it would have been nice to see Eilis actually grow a bit. So things go well in Brooklyn, and then Eilis gets temporarily called back to Ireland, and the question is, will she be able to say she wants to go back to New York, or will she get dragged back into small town life?
- A life in books: Colm Tóibín (guardian.co.uk)
- Colm Tóibín reads Music at Annahullian by Eugene McCabe (guardian.co.uk)