I never read my own books once they are published. There is too much raw and controlled emotion in them for me to be able to revisit them casually. And they belong, after publication, in any case, to others and not to me. So when I went to annotate Brooklyn, what came was the emotion before the writing, some facts and details, some scenes. It was almost as though I could imagine the book as unwritten, slowly coming into being.
First edition, limited issue, number 7 of 100 copies, signed and dated on the colophon, “Colm Toibin, 1 May 2009.” Brooklyn is an exquisite novel of immigration, cultural migration, a woman’s struggle to establish her own independent identity, mixed with superb depictions of the changing culture of 1950s New York. So it’s fitting that the inspiration for this work came to Toibin—as he explains in a long note on the front flyleaf, while homesick and living temporarily in Texas. Looking through the manuscript of his then unfinished (and set aside) novel, “Nora Webster,” he found “buried in the trim few pages the story of ‘Brooklyn.’ It came to me in a second or two what could be done with what was just a few sentences. In Texas I had missed Ireland and the emotion was raw.” He goes on to recount the germ of the story in a tale told by his Mother of a local girl who had emigrated to Brooklyn and then come back to Ireland; and the uncanny appearance of one of the real-life relations of that woman at a New York book signing. Other notes throughout trace connections from the story to Toibin’s own life, including the harrowing seasickness episode, where the heard-hearted traveler in the adjoining cabin refused to open the door to the common bathroom!
TOIBIN, Colm (b. 1955). Brooklyn. Dublin: Tuskar Rock Press, 2009. 8°. Original orange cloth, slipcase.