Review – Ellis Island by Kate Kerrigan

I thoroughly enjoyed Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn so I was instantly drawn to this similar tale of emigration from Kate Kerrigan but are they perhaps too alike to be read so close together?   Indeed should they be compared at all given that they are most definitely two different genres?

Anyway, back to Ellis Island for a while at least…our lead character, Eileen, known as Ellie, is forced to leave the abject poverty of her rural Irish background to seek employment in 1920s New York.  Whilst she is amazed by the modern conveniences of her new home (running water and electricity have yet to hit rural Ireland..), big changes are afoot in her native Ireland with the advent of the Free State prefaced by the brutalities carried out by the Black and Tans.  So which “island” will Ellie choose, is Ellie’s Island (nice wordplay..) based on glamour or duty?

Maybe I’ve read so many of these emigration stories that I’ve become a bit jaded, perhaps there’s nothing new to tell.  I found the Irish passages describing Ellie’s husband’s participation in the Republican Army and the stulfitying ambiance of Ellie’s childhood home much more gripping than the razzmatazz of Jazz Age New York – maybe I’m just awkward!  I thought that the storyline seemed to have a mind of its own, meandering around, not sure where it would end up.

All in all, an enjoyable enough story but it lacked something for me – the spark which Toibin provides in his descriptions of the minutiae of everyday life.   It would appear that most Amazon reviewers rave about this book so I am once more in the minority…

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  1. I had seen things about this book when looking it up after it was announced that this had made it onto the TV Book Club summer reads and did wonder if it was a bit of a cheap mans ‘Brooklyn’. That probably makes me sound really horrible but it was my initial reaction to it. I think that when a book as successful and as wonderful as ‘Brooklyn’ comes out any other book that is possibly comparable to it will suffer. Maybe publishers should think about that, or maybe its a way of cashing in?

  2. carol says:

    I too read Brooklyn and loved it. I was facisnated by the Irish emmigration to USA and when I saw that Ellis Island was on the same subject I reserved it at the library.
    I picked it up this week and just need to finish the book I am on and this will be my next read. I was expecting more of the same.

    Have you read The Songwriter – Beatrice Colin? Set in Brooklyn and on the subject of immigration too. I really liked this one too.

  3. admin says:

    It’s a good enough novel, Carol – I probably shouldn’t have read it so close to Brooklyn and the plots are so similar with Eilis and Ellie both having to return to Ireland. I must have a look at The Songwriter in the library, I thought The Luminous Life of Lily Aphrodite, her previous novel, was just okay so maybe this one will impress me! Thank you for the recommendation, Carol. :-)

  4. Iris says:

    I have Brooklyn on my shelves, recently received it as a birthday present and I’m looking forward to reading it. I’m sorry that this was all a bit samey to you. Maybe reading books like this farther apart helps?

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  6. admin says:

    Simon,without meaning to sound too snobby ;-), it is targetted at a very different audience/readership as Kate Kerrigan usually does a more chick lit style. It’s a perfectly decent novel just not my type…if it is some kind of “cashing in” it could very well backfire on the author…

  7. jenny wilson says:

    I am looking forward to this book, I am facinated by anybook with New York theme

  8. I have read so many books about immigration to the US that it would have to be really special to tempt me. I think I’d have the same thoughts on this as you, so I’m giving this TV Book club selection a miss.

  9. admin says:

    Jackie, I think I sort of knew I was going to be disappointed (self fulfilling prophecy strikes again!) but I’m a bit of a sado-masochist that way… I have The Legacy lined up to read next and hope I like it more. The Help was an excellent read and I enjoyed The Man who Disappeared and The Weight of Silence so the selection has been pretty good overall.

  10. admin says:

    Jenny, I would have sent you my copy but it was snapped up on Amazon marketplace, I think I am very much in the minority in not loving this book but such is life!

  11. I really enjoy immigration stories and was looking forward to this one – the author is new to me. It is not out in the US yet but I will probably pick it up when it does come out. I won’t expect it to compare to Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn – that is much more literary – while I expect this to err on the side of chick lit!

  12. admin says:

    Thank you for your comment, Colleen. I’m not entirely sure what genre this is – not really chick lit – maybe it straddles light historical and saga – is there such a thing as light historisaga???

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