Magazine article The Spectator

'Nora Webster', by Colm Tóibín - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'Nora Webster', by Colm Tóibín - Review

Article excerpt

Nora Webster Colm Tóibín

Viking, pp.311, £18.99, ISBN: 9780670918140

In Colm Tóibín's much-loved 2009 novel Brooklyn , Eilis Lacy, somewhat to her own surprise, leaves 1950s Enniscorthy (Tóibín's own home town in County Wexford where several of his books are set) for a new life in the United States. Before that,

Eilis had always presumed that she would live in the town all her life, having the same friends and neighbours... that she would find a job in the town, and then marry someone and give up the job and have children.

Now, in Nora Webster , we meet a woman who has done all of the above -- a contrast made clear in the opening pages when Eilis's mother makes a brief appearance to lament the fact that her daughter didn't stay in Ireland.

By then it's 1968 and Nora has recently become yet another of Tóibín's main characters -- including the mother of Christ in last year's Man Booker-shortlisted The Testament of Mary -- to be suffering a bereavement. Her husband Maurice has just died, leaving Nora, always the less outgoing one in the marriage, to look after their four children, three of whom are still at school. But if that leads anyone to expect a novel that emotes wildly, then they obviously haven't read Tóibín before. Instead, this is a book that, perhaps even more than his previous work, both explores and largely relies on the unsaid.

Nora does sometimes ruminate on being alone -- or more precisely, on 'wandering in a sea of people with the anchor lifted'. Mostly, however, she simply gets on with it, patiently enduring a stream of clumsily well-intentioned visitors and agreeing to return to her pre-marriage job as an office bookkeeper ('She told no one about the arrangement'). By my calculations, not until page 252 does she and any of the children have a conversation about missing their father -- and that lasts for five lines. …

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