Book Review: Nora Webster


Nora Webster

Colm Toibin


373 pages

Nora Webster is the story of a widow by the same name. It is the late 1960s in Wexford, Ireland, and Nora’s husband has just died, leaving her with four children to care for. It isn’t the dramatic tale that one would imagine, but rather the story of the next few years as Nora struggles to come to terms with Maurice’s death. Finding her way in the work force after 25 years away is one element of her new life, as well as discovering hobbies that interest her as an individual.

Nora Webster is a very layered novel. There is not a lot of dramatics, but rather it is Nora quietly trying to forge a new path. My favorite parts of the novel were mostly when she was working at Gibney’s. Nora had left Gibney’s 25 years earlier when she married Maurice, and she was offered a position once she was widowed. Her old nemesis, Francie Kavanaugh, is now the manager, and she is a bitter woman who still feels slighted by Nora’s attitude towards her decades ago. Nora also shares an office with Elizabeth Gibney, the socialite daughter of current Gibney scion, William Gibney. Elizabeth is very flighty and would rather gossip on the phone than do any work, yet she and Nora form an unlikely friendship.

The other parts of the novel didn’t interest me as much. Nora discovers that she has a passion for music and singing. She joins the Gramaphone Society and also begins taking voice lessons. This didn’t interest me in the slightest and I began to become bored with the novel towards the end because of it.

Nora’s relationship with her children is also a focus of the book. Her relationship with then honestly felt a little odd. Nora was very careful, to a fault, of not prying into the lives of her children. It seemed that she was scared of how they felt about the death of their father, and that Nora couldn’t bear the weight of their pain and loneliness along with her own, so she set herself adrift. It would have been very interesting to see what the family dynamics were prior to Maurice’s death, because Nora wouldn’t have been seen as particularly nurturing or warm in the novel.

I absolutely love Colm Toibin’s novel Brooklyn, so I was excited to read this book. I enjoyed it well enough, but I don’t think it resonated with me as much as it could with another reader. Because of how layered it is, I think it is the type of novel you could read multiple times, discovering new details and depths each time.




2 Responses

  1. I’ve been curious about this book ever since I read Brooklyn…and saw the movie. Maybe I’ll pick it up. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I loved Brooklyn, too, and have read several lukewarm reviews of this novel. I still want to try it, but may reach for Blackwater Lightship first. Thanks for the review.

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