Review: Brooklyn: A Novel by Colm Toibin



My Interest

Like a few other books I’ve read recently, I ran out of time with the library book when it was new and couldn’t get a renewal so it went back on my TBR. Reading Ireland Month was the perfect reason to request it again. I got the audiobook for my daily commute and am so glad I did–I ended up listening to it at home even!

The Story

Eilis Lacey is a young Irish woman who has finished school, shows great promise, but like many, she can find no meaningful employment in post-World War II-era Ireland. So, with the help of her siblings, she leaves her beloved sister and her widowed mother behind and moves to America–to Brooklyn for a job in a department store and the chance to “better herself.”

My Thoughts

I had to laugh as I read this one, remembering the little brother in the oft-shown clip from the movie of the little brother at dinner! I was pleased to see that he was a presence in part of the book. That aside, I loved this book. I loved how Eilis’ reticence combined with a sort of “piss off-ness” gave her an unusual depth for a fictional character. I loved that she just wasn’t sure, but still owned her decisions (as we’d say today).

I also loved that the book so clearly showed how “small town” an immigrant’s community can be–even an ocean away, even in one of the largest cities in the world. That was perfect.

I think the moment I liked best was her penance scene. Just one Hail Mary. One. Just one.

My Verdict

Close to flawless storytelling.


Brooklyn: A Novel by Colm Tobin




Reading Ireland Month


#readingirelandmonth20 or #begorrathon20


Review: Milkman: A Novel by Anna Burns. Reading Ireland Month


#begorrathon20  #readingirelandmonth20
#reading ireland month

I’m participating in a number of reading challenges, reading “months” etc., this year to vary my reading even more! I’m finally reading print/eBooks again–not simply listening to audios on my commute.


Today, I’m starting Read Ireland Month, hosted by the blog 746 Books. (Check out this blog–nifty premise and fun to see her progress). My first review is of the Man Booker Prize Winner Milkman, by Anna Burns.

My Interest



I annually try to read at least one prize winner just for the sake of it. Add to it that my family came to the U.S. from Ulster via Australia [well, one part of it did!] and though we are protestants my interest in ALL of Ireland is strong. I visited the Republic of Ireland in 1977–exactly the era in which Milkman is set across the boarder during the Troubles.  Add to it the semester I spent reviewing the Troubles in an independent study project in college and you have a ton of reasons to pick this book. (Oh, to have had such a brilliant novel to   intertwine with my research!)


The Story

“It’s disturbing,” the friend explains. “It’s deviant. It’s optical illusional. Not public-spirited. Not self-preservation. Calls attention to itself and why—with enemies at the door, with the community under siege, with all of us having to pull together—would anyone want to call attention to themselves here?”

Unnamed  18 year-old “Middle Sister” is coming-of-age in a British Army-occupied city in Northern Ireland late in the years of the Troubles. Like all cities in that region, in that era, there were clear lines of demarcation–this will be a familiar idea to any who followed the gang warfare in LA or Chicago in recent years. S-S-D-City.

The “Gangs” here are Catholic Irish who want to be in the Irish Republic, and the Protestants loyal to the Queen in that “country over the water.” Just as in any gang situation there is collateral damage. The wrong person gets shot. The wrong car blown up. So Middle Sister is fingered as a romantic partner of “The Milkman”–a paramilitary leader (i.e. gang lord) old enough to be her father. Meanwhile, she’s in a relationship with “Maybe-Boyfriend,” and her widowed mother comes to be romantically involved with the real milkman who actually delivers the dairy products in the area.

Now, just what was Middle Sister doing that was seen as so dreadful in the quote above? Reading while out walking. Reading Victorian fiction. Reading without worry about where she was going. Reading without thought to the paramilitaries or the renouncers or the country over the water or …..

My Thoughts

I loved this book from start-to-finish with one tiny exception that I’ll discuss in a minute. The unique rhythm and linguistic style of this story–told in part almost as a marching cadence “sung” by troops and drill sergeant, was mesmerizing. (I gather many others hated it– but I loved it).

I also loved the other unique aspect of the storytelling–no names were used beyond Chef,  [Mother], Milkman and Real-Milkman. Otherwise all were “Middle Sister,” “Eldest wee sister,’ “Maybe-Boyfriend,” “Tablets-Girl,” “the Country Over the Water,” “the Country Over the Border,” etc. To me, this was like poetry.

The book definitely shines in the excellent audio version–the reader, Bríd Brennan, perfectly voices “Middle Sister.” Like so much of Irish story telling this comes across brilliantly in the spoken word. I’m not sure how well it would fare, though, in print. The writing makes the manners, rules, taboos, restrictions, and realities of life for “Middle Sister” come alive. I could relate to some of her life’s normal issues as we are approximate age mates which made the story that much better. The whole reading issue was just right for my “self” of that time and age, though I didn’t read and walk! I love when a piece of story is a perfect fit for my own life.

I truly admired the talent Anna Burns poured into this book. The effort it took to tell the story in this rigid ‘cadence” this something,  something,  list, story,  story, something, something, list lilting structure took patience and craftsmanship to hone. It was brilliantly done.

The only moment that made me roll my eyes was the now sadly predictable insertion into just about any work of historical fiction of a slug of modern day PC thought. Thankfully it was very, very brief in this book.

The Milkman: A Novel by Anna Burns

My Verdict

4.5 Stars

For once an award winner truly lived up to, and perhaps even surpassed, its  hype.


March Madness Nerd Style! Readathons, Challenges and more!

Yes, this is a very long post. Thankfully, it is mostly book lists!

Last month I completed the challenge of reading a book from each of the 50 states, Puerto Rico and D.C.  You can read that post here. This month I’m starting two challenges, Read Ireland Month and the Welsh Readathon. Meanwhile, I’m finished with the Fitzcarraldo Editions Fortnight challenge and will end March by wrapping up the Irish, Welsh, and Japanese challenges!

The Welsh Readathon

Welsh flag texture crumpled up


Readathon link

I accidentally returned the read-along book, the English translation of Un Nos Ola Leuad (One Moonlit Night) by Caradog Prichard (1904-1980). So, that leaves me scrambling. I own, and have not read, How Green Was My Valley. I’ve tried it before and didn’t get very far, so I may be a failure at this readathon. As for Welsh literature/Welsh authors I’ve read, it’s a short list: Going Solo by Roald Dahl.

Reading Ireland Month


Readathon Link

#begorrathon20  #readingirelandmonth20  #readingirelandmonth

Because I’m at the mercy of our regional library for most of my reading, I had to read two of my Irish books in February but will be posting my reviews during March. If I read another Irish book this month it is likely to be one of two McCarthy books that I already own.

What I’ve Already Read from the 100 Irish Novels List on 746 Books

or from the list 100 Books By Irish Women Writers also on 746 Books

This list includes both books set in Ireland and books written by Irish authors.

  1. Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith
  2. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  3. Magician’s Nephew and Lion Witch & Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
  4. Light a Penny Candle by Maeve Binchy [and many, many others]
  5. Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
  6. PS I Love You by Cecelia Ahern Read instead:  Love, Rosie and the Book of Tomorrow both by Cecelia Ahern
  7. Boy in Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
  8. Room by Emma Donghue  Read instead: Akin by Emma Donghue My Review Link
  9. Light in Amsterdam by David Park
  10. Aren’t You Somebody? Accidental Memoir of A Dublin Woman by Nuala O’Faolain
  11. The Group by Mary McCarthy and Memoirs of a Catholic Girlhood by her
  12. Damage by Josephine Hart –well, ok, I haven’t read it but I’ve seen Jeremy Irons in the starring role in the movie! Jeremy Irons!
  13. Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney TRIED to read instead: Normal People by her, but DNF couldn’t stand it
  14. ONE OTHER to be reviewed this month
  15. ONE OTHER to be reviewed this month

Others Not On Those Lists

  1. An Irish Country Doctor [series] by Patrick Taylor (Which I loved until he started cranking them out and lowering the quality. I quit after #9). Set in Northern Ireland.
  2. Ballroom on Magnolia Street; Teahouse on Mulberry Street; and The Tavern on Maple Street all by Sharon Owens
  3. Trinity by Leon Uris


Japanese Literature Challenge 13

at dolcebellezza.net

Readathon Link 


Unlike the other challenges, which run for a month or less, the Japanese Literature Challenge runs the whole of the first quarter of the year.  I’ve already posted my first review–of Strange Weather in Tokyo (aka The Briefcase). I’m behind on my second book, but will finish it along the way. My big feat will be completing the read-along of The Makioka Sisters, a dear friend’s favorite book. I want to succeed at reading it this time!

Books by Japanese authors regardless of the setting or novels set in Japan

links are to my reviews

When the Emperor Was Devine by Julie Otsuka

Traveling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Strange Weather In Tokyo [aka The Briefcase] by Hiromi Kawakami

Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro [Japanese author]

Housekeeper and the Professor by Yōko Ogawa

The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

Buried Giant by Kazu Ishiguro [Japanese author]

Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

 Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Do you like readathons or reading challenges? Are you doing any this year? Leave me a comment, or link to your own post.