In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, a book about an Irish immigrant.
Book lovers say it so often it’s almost one word: “yeahbutthebookwasbetter.”
It’s what you say when someone asks you if you saw a particular movie and you want to show what a snob you are. But there’s a lot of truth in that statement. Books usually allow for more internal dialogue, more shades of gray, more ways to understand characters and their actions.
Sometimes it works the other way, though, and the movie is better than the book, able to illuminate motivations and bring charters to life in a way that didn’t happen on the page. A short list of this includes “The Godfather” (what a dreadful book), “The Bridges of Madison County” (dreck both on the page and onscreen, but at least in the movie you don’t have to wade through so much horrid prose) and, now, I add “Brooklyn” to that list.
The movie based on Colm Toibin’s novel of the same name was nominated for three Oscars, one for the great performance by Saoirse Ronan, one for adapted screenplay and one for best picture. I think it should have won for adapted screenplay because the movie is a living, breathing human story that was adapted from a dull, often tedious novel.
You know sometimes you meet someone you may think is exotic—maybe they’re older and have an accent—and you assume they have an interesting story so you ask, “How did a nice Irish girl like you come to live in a boring ass suburb like this.” When she starts talking you realize thers not much there and you’re stuck because she won’t stop talking and you don’t want to be rude, but you could really use a drink, and you tune out, wishing you were with that crowd over in the corner that seems to be having so much fun.
That’s “Brooklyn” the novel. It starts in Ireland when young Eilis Lacey is fixed up with a job for a bitch at a local grocery store. We learn lots of details about the store, including that the owner treats the rich people better than she treats the less well-off. Then, because there don’t seem to be many jobs in Ireland at the time, her sister arranges for her to go to America to work. Eilis passively assents. Once in America she gets a job she’s not crazy about, but was arranged for her so she passively accepts it. And the local priest says “Go to night school to become an accountant, someone’s paid your tuition” so she does, passively.
Eventually she passively falls in love with a young Italian American who tries to sweep her off her feet, but she’s so passive she can’t commit, until she does because, well, why not. When a tragedy calls her back to Ireland, she makes lots of stupid decisions because it’s easier to go along than to have an opinion about anything. It’s only after that bitchy store owner rears her ugly head again that Eilis makes a choice for herself. Still, it was a choice that she could not help but make; it, too was made for her.
The movie, however, makes Eilis a confused young woman who seems confused about what is happening to her and why. She’s still passive, but not boringly so, and her romance (SPOILER: If I add an “s” to the end of that word you’ll know something you may not want to know) is (SPOILER: are) charming and innocent and the kind you might expect to hear from your parents or grandparents or that older Irish party guest.
So, and you won’t hear me say “yeahbutthebookwasbetter” about this. In fact, I’ll say watch the movie, as the time commitment is only a couple hours and the emotional payoff is much stronger. The book is a long trip across the ocean to nowhere.