A reader’s guide for “Long Island,” Oprah’s book club pick

Date:


“Long Island” selected for Oprah Book Club


Oprah Winfrey unveils “Long Island” as her latest book club pick

09:29

Oprah Winfrey has selected “Long Island” by author Colm Tóibín as her newest book club pick.

“Long Island,” published by Simon & Schuster, is the sequel to Tóibín’s 2009 New York Times best-selling novel, “Brooklyn.” It is about a young woman named Eilis Lacey, who left her small Irish town for a new life in America.

“Long Island” picks up more than 20 years later. She’s married to a plumber named Tony and is the mother of two teenagers.

The questions, discussion topics and other material that follow are intended to enhance a group’s conversation of “Long Island.”


This reading group guide for Long Island includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

Twenty years after the events of Brooklyn, Colm Tóibín returns to the character of Eilis Lacey, who has built a life in New York with her husband, Tony, their two teenage children and his extended Italian American family. Then Eilis learns that Tony has fathered a child with a married woman, whose husband plans to drop the baby on Eilis’s doorstep. Feeling isolated in her adopted country, betrayed by the person who made it feel like home and certain that she does not want to raise another woman’s child, Eilis returns to County Wexford, Ireland, for the first time in two decades. There she reconnects with her mother, brother, widowed friend Nancy and Jim Farrell-the man everyone once thought she would marry. Now, in Long Island, Tóibín’s best known character is offered a second chance at the life she left behind in this story complicated by weighty secrets, thundering silences and the deepest desires of the human heart.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

  1.  Eilis quickly decides she wants nothing to do with Tony’s illegitimate baby. How does she arrive at this decision, and why does she feel so strongly about it? What would she lose by caving to the pressure from Tony’s family to accept a future with the baby in their lives?
  2.  Discuss Eilis’s fraught relationship with Tony’s large, tight-knit Italian American family. In what ways have they made her feel welcomed or more isolated?
  3.  Compare Eilis’s relationship with her mother to Tony’s relationship with his. What aspects do you attribute to cultural differences, and which to the unique circumstances of their lives?
  4.  How does Eilis use silence to communicate throughout the novel? Consider, for example, her car ride with Tony to the airport on pages 133–134. How does Tóibín’s writing give language to the weight of these wordless moments?
  5.  After Eilis left Jim behind in Ireland, he began seeing another woman, Mai Whitney. Compare what ultimately happened between them to his experience with Eilis.
  6.  Reflecting on the events of twenty years ago, Jim considers that he never asked Eilis about her life in New York. Similarly, when she returned, Tony never inquired what happened that summer. Now back in Ireland, Eilis fantasizes about Jim “asking her quietly what it had been like, being away all the years. No one else had asked her this, not her mother or Nancy or anyone” (p. 169). Why do you think this is? Tóibín writes of Eilis, “No one really knew anything about her” (p. 171). Is this true?
  7. What did you think of the way Mrs. Lacey’s behavior changes when Rosella and Larry arrive in Enniscorthy? How does Eilis make sense of this and her children’s response?
  8.  Domestic spaces play a major role in the novel as characters redecorate a sitting room, install new appliances and furniture, and consider buying, selling, and building homes. What do these actions reveal about the aspirations and values of characters like Eilis, Mrs. Lacey, Nancy, and Miriam?
  9.  What did you think of Eilis’s decision to meet Jim in Dublin? Is she justified in her choice because of Tony’s betrayal? Do you think she will ever tell him about it? 
  10.  Discuss the role of secrets in the narrative. How would the story have changed if certain love affairs and future plans had been shared—or revealed—earlier? Alternatively, what might have happened if certain secrets never came to light?
  11.  “[Jim] understood something about people, he thought, because he owned a pub… He watched them doing what made no sense, unwilling to listen to argument or reason” (p. 219). How does this quote resonate with the choices Tóibín’s characters make (or refuse to make)? Does Jim understand people as well as he thinks he does?
  12.  Compare Eilis’s decision to hide her marriage to Tony when she came home to Ireland twenty years ago with Jim’s choice to hide his relationship with Nancy in 1976. Is one character more sympathetic than the other? In the end, how do they each deal with the consequences of the truth being revealed? Who had more to lose? 
  13.  What did you think of Nancy’s plan in the final chapters? Why doesn’t she confront Jim directly? What would you have done?
  14.  Discuss Jim’s final question to Eilis on page 292 and her decision not to answer it. What do you think will happen to these characters next? Imagine them twenty more years in the future. Would you read a third novel from Tóibín about them at that stage of life? 

Enhance Your Book Club

  1.  Explore “Past Lives” (2023): Watch the film “Past Lives,” which explores the reunion of childhood sweethearts from Seoul as adults in New York—one happily married and the other newly single and visiting from South Korea. Discuss how the film’s take on the “one who got away” storyline compares to Colm Tóibín’s in “Long Island.”
  2.  Read more works by Colm Tóibín, such as “Nora Webster,” which is also set in County Wexford and follows the titular character, who features briefly in “Long Island.”
  3.  Growing up, Eilis’s children don’t show much interest in learning about her old life back in Ireland. Share with your book club what you know about your parents’ early lives. When did you first take an interest in hearing about them? Consider taking this as an opportunity to learn more by speaking with family members and/or through genealogical research.

  4. Reading Group Guide by
    CBS News on
    Scribd



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