Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín Reviewed by Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge

Nora WebsterNora Webster by Colm Tóibín; Scribner, 2014.  373 pages; $27.00 (hardcover); reading level: adult.

This is the quietest of books. So quiet that, after you take your place behind Nora Webster eyes and realize she’s just lost her husband, you might wonder if anything is going to happen…or if this will be a psychological study with very little plot. At some point though, the noisy events simmering in the background break through Nora’s shocked, deadened analysis. Early widowhood has left her vulnerable to the prying eyes of the her neighbors – some well-meaning, some not – in the small Irish town where she lives. The older of her two sons has developed a stammer, the younger of her two daughters is becoming politically involved in what will later be called “The Troubles.” Nora can’t make peace with her dead parents or with her very much alive sisters, can’t figure out why they don’t seem to think she’s capable of handling her life. She returns to a former job she hated, comes close to suicide, and then, quietly, very quietly, begins to find her bearings. Nora is not particularly lovable and yet you want to know her; Tóibín’s writing is deliberately un-beautiful but if you miss a word, you’ve missed a lot: an explanation or a plot thread or key to understanding some mysterious event. This is a book that demands a close rather than a cursory read, a book that will leave you half-satisfied, half-wondering but richer for having given it the time it so well deserves.

Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge, Author

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