book review: Nora Webster

nora webster

Nora Webster by Colm Toibin. Publisher: Scribner [October 2014]. Fiction. Hardcover. 384 pages.

RATING: ***/5

“So this was what being alone was like, she thought. It was not the solitude she had been going through, nor the moments when she felt his death like a shock to her system, as though she had been in a car accident, it was this wandering in a sea of people with the anchor lifted, and all of it oddly pointless and confusing.”

Brooklyn is one of my all-time favorite novels. The writing and story poignant and entrancing. Good news on that front: filming began on the adaptation of Brooklyn with a script by Nick Hornby and Saoirse Ronan as the star.

In his latest novel, Colm Toibin returns to County Wexford, Ireland. Apparently Toibin’s been working on this book for quite some time. Toibin intensely and with elegance writes about a recently widowed woman in her 40s. What does one do after sharing a life with another for decades? After raising a family and being a unit, a couple. Being known within your tiny village as Mr. and Mrs. Webster? Is it over? Do you give up or do you push forward and reinvent yourself? Do you fill the desolation with otherness? It’s the 70s and Nora Webster must care for herself and her four children. Two daughters are in college, two sons are still in primary school. Nora struggles after her husband’s death. In her monetary obsessions she neglects her children’s mourning. She’s often oblivious to their struggles.

It’s a quiet reflection without any clichés. A novel focused more on interior than exterior. There’s no available man waiting in the wings or sudden fortune. This is Nora finding her independence for the first time in her life. She escapes the scrutiny in her small town by returning to work after two decades [“Returning to work in that office belonged to a memory of being caged. She knew though that she would not be able to turn the Gibneys down if they offered her something. Her years of freedom had come to an end; it was as simple as that.”], joining a choir, selling the family’s country home [“But it was not just that, it was the idea that she had made a decision for herself, the idea that she had asked no one’s advice.”] and becoming involved in unionizing the workers at her company. It’s rather lovely.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Scribner.


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