Whether that weight is warranted, I am not sure. I hate not knowing what to think, and ambiguous endings always throw me off. I had to go back and read a few reviews of Brooklyn after I finished to gauge whether the ending was to be thought happy or sad. Reviewers seemed split, with more on the sad side. Without giving the plot away, I thought Eilis made the better choice, however unwillingly, so that sadness, and other reviewers’ sense that she had been trapped, made me sad. But I think my problem with the book, and my ultimate confusion, run deeper than the ending. As other reviewers’ also pointed out, Eilis is a passive heroine, with a very narrow view of the world. She is no explorer, and a terrible reader of people.
Tibn narrates the book from her occluded viewpoint, and this becomes more and more frustrating. We don’t know what to think of the priest who brings her over, her boss, her landlady, even Tony, because she doesn’t know, and in some scenes is shown to be wrong. To write as a nave Irish girl in the 1950s is a literary feat, but I am not sure it makes a good novel. Aside from the opacity of the characters except for Eilis, it also makes the book unsatisfying as a historical novel. Eilis rarely seems to look around her, describing only the counter in front of her, the kitchen at the boarding house, the hall at the church. I wanted to hear about the bustle of Fulton Street and the displays in the shop windows, the architecture along Clinton Street and the food at the coffee shop. Maybe Tibn didn’t want to do this research, or did it and discarded it, but the lack of visual description makes the book float above the place. To name it Brooklyn and then not give us Brooklyn is a mistake, and one that diminishes our interest in the story itself. Eilis isn’t really interesting enough to spend the time of even a short novel on, so without glimpses of her world, commentary from a knowing source, there’s no way to know if she would be happy in the new world.