Novel to Film Review: Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

Brooklyn…

About the Novel:

Young Eilis Lacey dreams of life beyond the confines of her tiny Irish village, but unlike her beautiful sister, Rose, Eilis’ gifts are of a more practical nature: she has a head for numbers, and is a loving and dutiful daughter. Yet her ambition cannot be hidden and soon is noted by the Parish Priest, Father Flood. Via a church contact, he arranges for Eilis to travel to America where a job opportunity has arisen in New York with a reputable “merchant of Italian origin”.

Eilis finds lodgings in an eccentric boarding house and ekes out an existence in the cosmopolitan melting pot that is 1950s Brooklyn, impressing her employer, outwitting her landlady, and even falling in love. It seems her dream is truly becoming a reality. But then fate intervenes: a family crisis back home forces Eilis to make a choice between the past and the future, the old world and the new. Told with a masterful and elegant simplicity, Brooklyn is a sublime Trans-Atlantic coming-of-age story by one of the UK’s greatest living writers.

 

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About the Film:

Brooklyn is the story of a young woman, Eilis (Saoirse Ronan, Atonement) who moves from her small town in Ireland to Brooklyn, NY where, unlike home, she has the opportunity for work and for a future – and love, in the form of Italian-American Tony (Emory Cohen, The Place Beyond the Pines). When a family tragedy brings her back to Ireland, she finds herself absorbed into her old community, but now with eligible Jim (Domhnall Gleeson, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) courting her. As she repeatedly postpones her return to America, Eilis finds herself confronting a terrible dilemma – a heart-breaking choice between two men and two countries.

 

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My Thoughts on both the film and the novel:

I marked the film, Brooklyn, as one that I was keen to watch some time ago and ended up purchasing the film-tie in edition of the novel and then later, the DVD, putting both aside for a ‘rainy day’. Well, Saturday night was not exactly rainy here where I am, but I did find myself alone at home with several hours to spare and since I had only just finished a book earlier that afternoon, I decided to watch a movie instead of beginning to read something new. Little did I know that I was in for a big night, because after watching Brooklyn, I felt compelled to read the novel. Immediately. I sat up into the wee hours reading up to the point where Eilis returns home and then called it a night (or early morning as it was). I read the remainder over my Sunday morning brunch (such a late night had me sleeping right past the respectable time for eating breakfast). You’ll be forgiven for thinking that I was somewhat mad for reading a novel of a film immediately after watching said film, but I enjoyed the story of Brooklyn so much that I was loathe to let it go so soon.

 

So, what’s my verdict – novel or film? Which is the best?

 

Neither. They are both equally as lovely and moving as each other. I think this might be the first time I’ve ever come across a film adaptation that is so true to its original novel form. There were minor changes and tweaks to the movie to ease the flow of storytelling – this is to be expected – but the only major difference was the addition of a slightly expanded – and very welcome – ending to the film. I felt that the film was more romantic, and definitely more sad (I cried a lot!), whereas the novel didn’t depict Eilis’ love for Tony quite as explicitly. But, you absolutely cannot beat the novel in terms of atmosphere. Colm Tóibín has a way of writing that brings his settings to life with the most vivid intensity. Both in Ireland and Brooklyn, the 1950s was recreated with perfect clarity, from the economic and social conditions, through to the manners, fashion, religious and class expectations of the era. The contrast of the new world of America against the old world of Ireland was particularly poignant. The simplicity of the narrative within Brooklyn is deceptive; Colm Tóibín is quite a master of understatement. His words are deeply moving, and while the novel focused more on Eilis and her personal journey, we still had a significant impression of all the other characters and their roles within the two worlds that Eilis was caught between.

 

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I did appreciate the expanded ending of the film. I loved the way Eilis’ journey ‘home’ to America tied in with her original journey ‘away from home’. She was now the experienced sophisticated woman that she had admired as a fresh migrant two years previous. This turning of the tables was very well done, and the closing scene beautifully in keeping with the romantic feel of the film. The casting of the film was excellent and I loved the fashion, Eilis’ style as the film progressed dipping into that 1950s glamour that I so admire. Tony was undoubtedly the most perfect romantic hero. His character, both in the novel and the film, shone bright, a truly beautiful man who loved deeply, was instinctively respectful and as kind as they come. Such a gentleman. The film captured the wit and charm of Irish fiction to a tee, the dialogue in some parts identical to the novel.

 

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My overall opinion, is that in the case of Brooklyn, the film compliments the novel perfectly and this is one of those rare instances where the novel’s weaknesses are the film’s strengths, making them the perfect duo for any book lover. Like tea and biscuits, you can have them separate, but they always go best together.

 

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