Wednesday, November 18, 2015

book review: Nora Webster by Colm Toibin

The backstory: Nora Webster was on the 2014 Folio Prize shortlist, a 2015 Carnegie Medal finalist, and a 2014 New York Times Notable book. I previously liked The Testament of Mary by Toibin.

The basics: Nora Webster's husband dies, leaving her a young widow with four children, no job, and financial challenges in 1960's Ireland.

My thoughts: It's the second book I've read by Toibin, and only in hindsight did I realize both feature strong, conflicted female narrators. Nora Webster is a fascinating woman. As I think about it, my mind is filled with cliches to describe it: quiet, haunting, evocative. It is all of those things. It's a book I appreciated perhaps more than I enjoyed. There's a timeless, classic quality to it. It's set mostly in the 1960's, and Toibin captures the essence of the time and place so beautifully one might think it was written at that time.

Nora Webster is a character-driven novel. It's one I enjoyed the time I spent while reading it, but it wasn't one I thought about much when I wasn't reading. I dipped in and out of it and it took me almost a month to finish. The writing was strong, but I was surprised to find I didn't highlight a single passage. Perhaps because Toibin's writing was at its best in the quiet moments. For a novel about the death and aftermath of a young spouse, it's devoid of the theatrical grief. From inside Nora's world, the reader sees the small moments, such as struggling to find something to say to well meaning visitors, and making the financial decisions, more clearly than what she cannot process or move through initially. This duality is at the heart of the novel's power, but it's also what made me able to set this novel down for days on end in favor of other things. I always came back, and I enjoyed this novel, but it's not one with a narrative urgency.

The verdict: Nora Webster is a quiet, haunting novel of one woman at a place and time. She's a fascinating, complicated character, and I enjoyed glimpsing into her world.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 384 pages
Publication date: October 7, 2014
Source: library

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Nora Webster from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Colm Toibin's website

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1 comment:

  1. I've been hearing that this was a good one, but I appreciate getting a little more information! I haven't read anything by this author yet, but I will keep an eye out for these books.


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