Book of the month

Long Island, by Colm Tóibín. Published by Picador, €22.99

Eminently readable, unputdownable, a triumph. This is Long Island, the sequel to Colm Tóibín’s best-selling Brooklyn. Lovers of that bestseller, later a multiple Oscar-nominated movie, will find Long Island to be just as fulfilling, and maybe even more enjoyable.

Tóibín didn’t plan to write a sequel. The spark to do so grew from an idea that came to him, and it takes the story two decades forward. While Enniscorthy-born Eilis Lacey is again central to the story, her former love Jim Farrell emerges from the shadows to play a more prominent role. The third voice is that of Eilis’s schoolfriend Nancy Sheridan, and their lives are once again shown to be unexpectedly intertwined.

Secrecy, and the way in which it impacts negatively on people’s lives, is a key ingredient in the unfolding tale. The opening pages of Long Island are enough to hook the reader. Married to Tony Fiorello and with two teenage children, Eilis is an outsider within the tight-knit Italian family of her husband, residing in a cul-de-sac beside her parents-in-law and two of Tony’s brothers and wives.

An Irishman calls to her front door, revealing to a startled Eilis that Tony is set to become a father to the expected child of the caller’s wife. The visitor reveals that he intends to leave the newborn on her doorstep. When Eilis makes it clear that she will reject the child, her mother-in-law’s decision that she will look after the baby causes tension between the women.

Eilis comes back to Enniscorthy for a long summer stay, coinciding with her mother’s upcoming 80th birthday, and this is the first time she has been home since the funeral of her sister Rose. Eilis is an outsider too in her home place, though she rekindles her love affair with Jim Farrell, still single but secretly engaged to Nancy Sheridan.

Tóibín’s wonderful and sparing use of language, his ability to make the most basic detail of everyday life important, and the polished way in which he portrays his characters is displayed at its best in his latest offering.

While Brooklyn was set in the 1950s, Long Island paints a picture of life in the seventies. We can only hope that the author takes it on another couple of decades and completes a trilogy.

Leo’s recommended reading

The Classic

The Great Gatsby, by F Scott Fitzgerald. Published by Penguin Books, €11.60

F Scott Fitzgerald died in 1940, at the age of just 44. His writings were in decline at the time of his death. His outstanding legacy, The Great Gatsby, isset in the Jazz Age on Long Island, near New York City. Written in 1925, it was later adapted into a number of films, an opera, a play, a comic book, and even a video game.

The title character, the incredibly rich Jay Gatsby, embodies both the promise and the dangers of the American dream like few characters have ever done in literature. At first, we are introduced to the world of glittering parties, unsavoury drinking spells, and fierce social rivalries, through the lens of the young Yale graduate Nick Carraway. He has rented a house on Long Island and made friends there, but all are intrigued by the mysterious neighbour Gatsby.

Hundreds of New Yorkers turn up to Jay’s lavish parties, but almost no one knows who he is or where he is from. The enigmatic Gatsby is different from what anyone supposed, and it is Jay’s pursuit of love that will prove to be his undoing.


Table For Two, by Amor Towles. Published by Penguin Random House, €20.99

Eight years ago, A Gentleman in Moscowbrought its author Amor Towles to prominence. This was the second of three novels that Towles has published, all to critical acclaim.

Now comes his fourth offering. Table For Two consists of six short stories set in New York, mostly around the turn of this century, and there is also a novella about the golden age of Hollywood. All are infused with unforgettable characters, a rich portrayal of place, with adventure and suspense, and all contribute to an experience that leaves you wanting more.

The consequences springing from brief encounters, and the mechanics of compromise in modern marriages, are at the heart of the New York stories. They represent half of the 450 pages.

In the novella, Eve in Hollywood, Towles returns to a character we first met in his debut novel, Rules of Civility. Whatever happened to Evelyn Ross after she failed to disembark her train in Chicago in 1938, instead extending her ticket to Los Angeles? Now you can find out.

Thought provoking

So Once Was I, by Warren Farrell. Published by Merrion Press, €19.99

A year or so ago, I paid my first visit to Glasnevin Cemetery, where we were given an outstanding tour by Niall Oman of some of the most interesting final resting places of leading figures in Irish history. The same Niall is one of many people acknowledged by his fellow tour guide Warren Farrell in a new book <So Once Was I. This book takes the reader on a trip around the monuments and graves, and provides a microcosm of Irish society and history since the gates of the now landmark site were first opened in 1832.

Farrell’s love for politics and history shine through in this volume, which celebrates lesser-known figures among the million and a half souls buried in Glasnevin. Famed for being the final resting place of Countess Markievicz, Michael Collins, Eamon De Valera, Roger Casement, Charles Stewart Parnell and more, So Once Was I, Forgotten Tales from Glasnevin Cemetery takes readers on paths less trodden, and is all the better for so doing.

From unmarked plots to striking monuments, Glasnevin is a microcosm of Irish society over the last two centuries.