I just finished reading Nora Webster by Colm Toibin. I read this novel over a period of about three days and while I wasn’t reading it, some small part of me was still there, lingering in “Nora’s” life –her home, her town in Ireland, among her children and relatives. I longed to pick up the book to get back inside her world.
Good fiction gives you another world and makes you want to be there to experience other lives, or at least observe them closely. This is what one might call a quiet book. There is no murder to solve (though I do enjoy a good mystery at times), no abuse, addiction, none of the difficulties that plague our contemporary world.
Nora Webster is the story of a woman who moves through the period of grief following the death of her husband. We learn little of her marriage, though I have the sense it was a happy one. Instead, the reader comes to know how this ordinary woman manages to find her way and recast her life alone. We see her go about the small things –coping with meddlesome relatives, enduring the well-meaning platitudes of friends, changing her hair color, selling a beach cottage, and redecorating the living room.
Yet, this is not a “sweet” book. Nora’s problems are real and challenging. Her daughters are grown and making their own lives, one son develops a stammer, and Nora returns to the workplace after having been at home her entire married life. The troubles in Northern Ireland as well as labor issues at her job create a worrysome undercurrent in her everyday life. While she can’t solve any of these larger problems, she manages to discover something new about herself.
All of us fear the death of a loved one. None of us welcome the daunting stages of grief. This novel shows us how one individual copes, survives, and finds a way to move on – a quiet triumph in a brilliant, but quiet novel.