Study Guide

Brooklyn: A Novel Part 1

By Colm Tóibín

Part 1

  • Eilis Lacey is looking out her living room bedroom when she sees her older sister Rose returning from work.
  • Before she saw her sister, Eilis had been working on homework for her bookkeeping and accounting class. Sounds riveting.
  • Rose enters the house "holding her pocket mirror in front of her face" (1.3). Her mother offers to make her tea, but she declines: it's time to go to the golf club, as usual.
  • Before she leaves, she gives Eilis some cash to go to the movies. Aw—what a sweet sis.
  • Later that night, there's a knock on the door: it's a girl from Miss Kelly's grocery store. Miss Kelly apparently wants to see Eilis tonight, which is super-strange, as her family doesn't even go to Miss Kelly's store. It's way too expensive.
  • Regardless, she shows up at the shop that night. It's awkward at first, but Miss Kelly eventually explains that she wants Eilis to work for her on Sundays because she's so good with numbers.
  • Eilis has no choice but to agree. They plan to go to "seven o'clock mass" the following Sunday before her first day (1.40).
  • Before returning home, she stops by her friend Nancy Byrne's house, where she finds Annette O'Brien hanging out too. There's some juicy gossip—Nancy recently hooked up with George Sheridan.
  • Her two friends get hyped when she tells them about her new job—she'll finally have the dough to go dancing with them at the hottest dance club in Ireland (kinda), the Athenaeum.
  • Eilis spends the next few days learning everything she needs to know about Miss Kelly's shop. She's amazed by the pricey merchandise and Miss Kelly's snooty attitude towards customers.
  • The following Saturday, she buys a new dress for the upcoming dance with the money she's earned so far. Sounds swanky.
  • Eilis has had her own room since her brother Jack joined their eldest brothers in "Birmingham to find work" (1.86). Because their father is dead, Rose supports Eilis and her mom with her office job.
  • Rose is a pretty glamorous lady. She's thirty, has tons of boyfriends, kills on the golf course, and generally lives by the creed of YOLO.
  • Eilis arrives at church for seven o'clock mass. She sees Miss Kelly and her assistant Mary, but they don't actually greet her until she arrives at the store.
  • It's a chaotic day. Miss Kelly saves her best stuff for her fanciest customers, which is a little gross, but most folks seem to love the wild atmosphere of the store.
  • Eilis tells her mom about this over breakfast the next morning. Her mom says that Miss Kelly's mom was "evil incarnate" and that Miss Kelly (who is named, hilariously, Nelly Kelly) used to be a huge nerd back in the day (1.114).
  • That night, Eilis heads over to Nancy's before going to the dance. Nancy is still buzzing about George Sheridan, but is also nervous that he won't approach her.
  • Well, the joke's on her, because he's not even there when they show up. Then, when he finally does show up later in the night, he's flanked by his beefy bros from the rugby team.
  • After what seems like ages, George finally asks Nancy to dance. Phew. Unfortunately, that leaves Eilis to make small talk with George's bro Jim Farrell. And by small talk, we mean that they stand there awkwardly and exchange less than five words.
  • In addition to her regular workdays on Sunday, Eilis starts filling in during the week at Miss Kelly's shop. What a joy.
  • At dinner one night, Rose randomly brings up a priest named Father Flood, who she has invited over for tea tomorrow. That's odd. Apparently he lives in America, but is back home on vacation.
  • The four of them hang out for tea the next day. To Eilis' surprise, Father Flood shows a lot of interest in "her job at Miss Kelly's" (1.176).
  • Finally, Eilis realizes what's going on—Father Flood wants her to move to Brooklyn to find work. In fact, Rose must have gotten him to come over expressly for this purpose.
  • A few days later, Eilis receives a letter from Father Flood saying that he's found a job for her at a big Brooklyn store.
  • Over the next several weeks, Eilis' journey to America quickly becomes a reality. Rose takes care of her legal documents, while her brothers offer to pay her fare.
  • Because she's a top-notch employee, she decides to inform Miss Kelly a month before she leaves. Because she's kind of a grump, Miss Kelly fires her immediately.
  • Naturally, Eilis spends a lot of time with Rose during that month. She eventually realizes that Rose had decided to "sacrifice herself" so that Eilis could be the one to go to the States (1.223).
  • When the day finally comes, Rose takes Eilis to Dublin, where she'll catch a boat to Liverpool. There, she'll be able to see her brother Jack for a day before crossing the ocean.
  • Using her charm, Rose manages to get aboard the ship so they can have the maximum amount of time to say goodbye.
  • A short ride later, Eilis arrives in Liverpool. She's overjoyed to see her brother Jack and they take a stroll before her boat departs. He tells her how homesick he had been when he first moved.
  • Finally, it's time to go. Eilis boards the ship and discovers that she has a "tiny" room with a "bunk bed" and "no window" (1.303). Not exactly the Ritz-Carlton.
  • Suddenly, her roommate arrives: a mile-a-minute Englishwoman named Georgina. She tries to convince Eilis to help her infiltrate First Class, but she declines.
  • Instead, Eilis goes to the dining room for dinner. She's the only person there though, which is odd, but at least she gets top-notch service from the lone waiter.
  • Finally, she returns to her room. When she suddenly feels the need to use the toilet, she learns that the adjoining room has locked the door to the bathroom they share. Seriously?
  • Without anything else to do, Eilis runs through the halls until she finds "a bucket and some mops" in the corner (1.333). It's not the best surrogate-toilet, but it'll do.
  • She manages to fall asleep in her bed, but is woken up hours later by the violent shaking of the ship. Now she's seasick as all get-up, prompting her to run into the hallway and vomit profusely.
  • After a failed attempt to clean up her mess, Eilis goes back to sleep. Georgina wakes her up a while later and shows concern for her sickness.
  • Then Georgina gets down to business, picking the lock on the bathroom door and blocking the other room's entry. All's fair in love and seasickness, right?
  • Don't fear though—the two rooms make peace later that day and decide to end the Great Locked Door War.
  • The next night is pretty jolty too, but Ellis luckily doesn't have a full stomach this time (so that's why the dining room was empty). She takes a shower (her first ever) and feels oodles better.
  • The day before their arrival, Georgina gives Eilis tips on making it past customs. They're all useful, but Eilis gets the warmest fuzzies when Georgina shows her how to put on makeup.