Wednesday, October 28, 2020
BROOKLYN by Colm Toibin
If Junot Diaz's Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is the definitive contemporary American immigrant novel, Colm Toibin's defiantly old-fashioned Brooklyn, written around the same time, is an immigrant novel Jane Austen could (almost) have written. (Since I don't idolize Austen, that's not exactly a compliment.) Indeed, Toibin even lifts the lineaments of the typical Austen plot, hinging on the central female character's single life-defining decision of whom to marry. But unlike the best of Austen (Persuasion, Mansfield Park, Emma), Brooklyn is a too comfortable, too sentimental, overly nice novel; duplicitous characters, unlikable characters--in short, interesting characters, are kept carefully minor. But perhaps the harshest criticism I can make of Brooklyn as a work of literary art (and I should probably mention here, parenthetically, that I rather liked the book--almost as much as I'm liking slagging it) would be merely to mention that the novel adapted perfectly to film. I think virtually everything in the book made it to the screen, with only a few minor alterations. It translates to film as easily as a men's room sign translates to Spanish. This is an indication not of the film's Stroheimian greatness but of the novel's slightness. No one who has seen the movie need read the book, a work that comes to seem, weirdly, like a slavish novelization of the film adapted from it.