Summary as presented on the book
A devastating story of love, loss and one woman’s terrible choice between duty and personal freedom.
Summary if I had written it
Eilys from Co Wexford emigrates to America and everybody decides all her life for her. The end.
Verdict: good or bad?
Sometimes you wish fictional characters were alive. I have three categories for that: the « I want to share your adventures » category (e.g I want to live in Camp Half-Blood), the « I want to shake you and tell you you’re ruining your life » category (e.g any woman seduced by Bel-Ami) and the « Ana Karenina » category for heroes you dislike so much you actually want to push them under a train (I’ve spent the whole of Ana Karenina looking forward to the moment she would kill herself). Well, Eilis is very close to the Ana Karenina category.
Eilys is the most passive character I ever read about. Everything happens to her without her taking any initiative. It’s impossible to know what she thinks. Does she like her job? Does she love Tony? Does she love Jim? Even towards the end of the book where she could have a choice to make, she manages to avoid it, letting someone else make the decision for her. It feels as if the whole story is a case of « Eilis knew she should do X or Y, but knew she could not / would not ».
I also found the book gave a very rosy picture of emigration. Everything works well for Eilis. A priest she has never seen finds her a job with a very understanding boss, and a place to stay. Her boyfriend is perfect. She has no troubles with her exams. No money issue. We’re not told the streets are paved with gold but almost. I wasn’t looking for a sob story but a bit more realism would have been good.
Issues that could have made for interesting stories like the Holocaust survivor who teaches law, or the opening of the store to « coloured » people and the reaction of the other customers (or even of Eilis …) are not developed. More than laziness or missed opportunity from the author, I think it’s deliberate and a way to show that Eilis has no curiosity, no real interest for the world around her.
Apparently, the book received good reviews when published. Maybe, but I for one wouldn’t recommend it!