Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Brooklyn and The Weight of Water

I have been MIB.


Shortlisted twice for the Booker Prize, Brooklyn by Colm Toibin recounts a year in the life of Eilis Lacey, a young woman who makes the leap from Ireland to New York in the early 1950s. With the miserable Irish economy, Eilis accepts the offer of an Irish priest from Brooklyn to sponsor her in America where if she gets the right education she can get the "right" job.

Eilis finds work in a department store, lives in a boarding house with a intrusive landlady, and takes classes at Brooklyn City College. She meets a nice Italian boy from a big family, who takes her to Coney Island and Ebbets Field, and talks to her of "their" future. Just when Eilis becomes comfortable, she receives news from home -- she and her Italian take a huge risk, and....

What makes this book work is the writer. The story is hardly original, but the prose is --- some how different. Toibin holds back -- as one reviewer calls it "superbly controlled" -- the emotion, and this detachment, this reticence makes the story more moving and beautiful.

Lovely book.

Anita Shreve's The Weight of Water surprised me. Published in 1997, this book had been on my reading list for a long time. [Since then, it has been made into a movie with Sean Penn and Elizabeth Hurley -- didn't know that -- didn't see it -- doesn't matter.]

Jean, a photographer, arrives on Smuttynose Island, off the coast of Maine, in 1995, to research a century-old crime. With her on this trip are her husband, her daughter, her brother-in-law, and his girlfriend. As Jean immerses herself in the murder case, including the pocketing of some old letters from the archives of the local library, she becomes obsessed and has trouble distinguishing the present from the past -- and her delusions become reality when she lets her jealous emotion run amok. In the end, what she sets in motion has tragic consequences.

What I loved about the novel were the letters that she pilfered from the library -- letters from the lonely wife of a fisherman. Shreve expertly captured the misery, loneliness, and isolation that must have been the day to day of women of the time. The letters were haunting.

I think of Anita Shreve as pop fiction -- but she was better than that in this novel.



  1. I'm not so much a movie person, and am often uninterested in the movie rendition of the book, but I looooove Sean Penn. :)

  2. So glad to hear from you. Thought you had forgotten us all. Love both reviews. I will buy the first one for Marie and I will read the pop fiction, as usual. I have been to the library three times recently and walked out with nothing. Thanks for the books.