My favourite of the books I've read so far in 2010, Brooklyn came out last year from celebrated Irish writer Colm Toibin. Set in the 1950s, the story starts out with a young woman moving from Ireland to Brooklyn, New York, for a job and new life. The book is full of quiet insights into family, identity and home and the central character of Eilis is so authentically and beautifully realised, it is hard to believe that this young woman's voice has been created by a much older man. I often find that a books ending more doesn't live up to the promise of its beginning and middle, but Brooklyn has one of the most touching finales I've read in a long time. I couldn't get this book out of my head for days.
The Group was a US bestseller in the 1960s, is set in the 1930s, and was recently reissued as a Virago Modern Classic with a new intro from Candace Bushnell. I loved, loved, loved this darkly funny and sometimes tragic novel about a group of eight Vassar graduates trying to make their way in depression era New York. Characters grapple with sex, marriage, work, family, politics and parenthood. The insights into 1930s child rearing are particularly alarming, and most of the male characters, apart from one or two expectations, are irredeemably vile. And some of the female characters aren't much chop either ... in fact The Group reads a whole lot like real life, transplanted to a time and place before WWII and the Cold War ever happened. I couldn't put this book down; it's not called a modern classic for nothing.
As I was reading it I thought that this book would make a fantastic ensemble film, with so many meaty parts for women. I then discovered that it was already adapted in 1966 by Sidney Lumet. Has anyone seen the film? By all reports it is good, but I'm often amused by 1960s era period pieces which sees actresses sporting anachronistic bouffant hair dos and false eyelashes. And it can completely take me out of the experience.
And finally Australian author and Miles Franklin winner Steven Carroll's latest The Lost Life reads almost like an epic poem. The prose is sparse but rhythmical, which is somewhat fitting considering TS Eliot is one of the main characters. A lovely meditation on first love lost and found.