9781035029440 Long.island Colm.toibin

“Long Island” by Colm Toibin

This is a sequel to “Brooklyn” published back in 2009 and subsequently made into a well received film. Whether or not readers were waiting to find out what happened to Eilis Lacey and Jim Farrell this book has been marketed as : “Long awaited”. It is, as ever with Tobin, a very readable novel, well written as any fan of his work would expect and it does reveal what happens when Eilis does finally return to Ireland for the first time after her sudden departure 20 years earlier. Then she had left Jim without any warning or explanation; their flourishing romance unfulfilled.

Eilis had returned to New York to her husband Tony Fiorello, whose existence she had not mentioned to Jim, even her mother or others within her home town of Enniscorthy. Twenty years on she is apparently happily married with two teenage children, Rosella and Larry. That domesticity though is shattered by a man calling at the door to their house; what he has to say has major implications on her marriage and her relationship with Tony and his family. They are closeknit Italian immigrants who now reside in a small close, his two brothers and their families all living alongside Tony’s parents; everyone knowing each other family’s business. Eilis the sole Irish amongst Italians. The first 50 pages are based in Long Island setting the scene and the author’s creation of an Italian family reads very authentically.

To escape and think things through, away from Tony and her in-laws; Eilis decides to fly home to Ireland for a change of scenery. This coincides with her mother’s 80th birthday. She arrives on her own but is to be joined in time for the celebrations by her children who have never met their grandmother.

Enniscorthy is a small town near the coast; Jim is still there, unmarried, now running his father’s pub which is florishing. Eilis’s friend Nancy and one of her brothers are still living their lives as before. Her mother’s house little changed, the town hardly altered. It is mid-1970s, Ireland itself still very rural and traditional. Nancy, a widow for five years, now runs the town’s fish and chip shop aided by her son. It is across the town square from Jim’s pub. She is concentrating on the imminent wedding of one of her daughters and invites Eilis to attend, where of course Jim is also a fellow guest.

However, Jim and Nancy have started a secret relationship which is growing stronger and Nancy has plans for their future which Jim is quite happy with, at least until sighting Eilis in town and then meeting her at the wedding. How these events pan out over the summer and after the arrival of her children fills the narrative. Small town Ireland, everyone sees everything, this has parallels with Eilis’s family life in Long Island. Then over the birthday celebrations her other brothers and nephews add to the family pressures; Larry going with his uncles around the local pubs, including Jim’s.

There are eyes everywhere and how Jim and Eilis manage to meet to understand their feelings towards each other is the substance of this sequel to “Brooklyn.” I have often said Colm Toibin is at his best when his novels are located in Ireland, here he succeeds also so well with the Italian family; he is a master craftsman and storyteller and the reader becomes immersed in the rural backwater and townsfolk of Enniscorthy.