Staff Review by Chris Hubbard
Colm Toibin's latest novel, Nora Webster, tells of a woman's grief and stress at having to re-enter the world of work and society after losing her husband.
Set in late 1960’s Ireland, Nora Webster
is the story of a woman coming to terms with the death of her husband,
Maurice Webster, a teacher in their small village. Nora took comfort in
the fact that she could rely on him - a highly regarded pillar of the
community - to negotiate the difficulties of social life, while she was
content to stay at home and look after her four children.
his death, Nora finds herself having to deal with well meaning but
sometimes unwanted visits from friends and family, offering advice and
assistance. The realisation that she has to get her life back on track
sees Nora returning to work in an office she was happy to leave upon
marriage. There is a sad humility in the scenes where Nora has to prove
herself a competent employee to people she thought she would never have
to meet again. It is a work environment where petty office politics and
gossip are the order of the day.
Colm Toibin is a master of subtlety and the quiet moment. So much of the emotional punch of Nora Webster
is to be found in the very things left unsaid by characters unable to
articulate their real thoughts and feelings. It is quite obvious that
the stammer developed by one of Nora’s sons is a manifestation of pent
up emotional stress. Nora’s emergence from her grief corresponds with
her newfound assertiveness, which is often misunderstood for rudeness.
is a point in the novel when Nora discovers the joy and wonder of
classical music via the record collection of some new friends. This is a
turning point in her life and proof of the restorative power that music
can have. Nora begins to take singing lessons, realising full well
that her best days as a vocalist are behind her, but now understanding
how she can draw on her love of music to maybe ease her grief and
Nora Webster is such an honest and
truthful novel where the very ordinariness of people’s lives makes for
the most remarkable reading. There is a wonderful scene where Nora is
persuaded by an overbearing hairdresser to change her hair colour to add
some spark to her life but the end result just causes more anxiety.
Perhaps the highest praise I can give this novel is that should Nora Webster
ever go out of print it could re-emerge as a Persephone Classic – a
publisher that champions books about women and the little battles they
win in the midst of family and community life.
Nora Webster, by Colm Toibin. Published by Picador. ISBN: 9781743533284 RRP: $19.99
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