Nora Webster by Colm Tóibin

Nora Webster was the book that gave me back my reading mojo, as well as being the book I read during the Dewey 24 hour readathon last weekend.

Nora is a gentle, insightful interior journey. Told entirely through Nora’s eyes, we experience her feelings of grief and loss after the death of her husband.

We feel her isolation, her confusion & her ‘otherness’ as she tries to come to terms with her new world order.

We see her struggle to (re)connect with her four children, her sisters and aunt. We see her manage the family finances, go back to work, start singing lessons and redecorate. Slowly signs of independence and enjoying her new-found freedoms begin to creep in. But there’s always a catch – missing Maurice.

Missing their old life together, missing his comforting presence, their conversations, their easiness together, the sharing of a life.

The back of the book hints at “great moral ambiguity“. I will need a reread to tease out these subtleties I think.

Nora has problematic relationships with pretty much everyone around her, but we only ever see and hear her perspective. Initially, we’re drawn into feeling sympathy and empathy for her grief and loss, but as the story progresses we realise there are unspoken ‘issues’. Perhaps her self-absorption after Maurice’s death is not just a response to grief, but a long time pattern of behaviour?

There is so much silence in this story, so much left unsaid, so much to read between the lines.

I grew up in sunny Australia in a working class Protestant family, but I know that coldness. I know that silence. Families do that to each other. They keep each other at arm’s length, they keep secrets, they protect their privacy and they leave a lot of things unsaid…for all kinds of reasons. People really do walk on eggshells around family members for fear of their emotional response.

Nora Webster was a heart-breakingly, tender, disturbing read. I for one will be reading much more Colm Tóibin.

12 thoughts on “Nora Webster by Colm Tóibin

  1. I was very curious about this book, but wondered if it would be sad. Your review makes it sound really beautiful and maybe worth a try.

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  2. Very effective Brian.I've been discussing this at work with my colleague who read it at the same time. We see some of the issues raised in the story differently. All the silences and space allow each individual reader to insert their own life experiences into the gaps – fascinating!

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  3. I feel confident that you'll love it – seems to me it would be the perfect autumn read – curled in a warm room, with a hot drink and a throw rug over your knees (or a big dog!) for comfort 🙂

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  4. I've mostly read Toibin's short stories, but can recommend his novel Brooklyn. Blackwater Lightship is a favorite of many (why haven't I head it yet?) and I have The Master, based upon the life of Henry James, ready to go on my kindle.

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