The death of a spouse is one of the single most stressful events one will go through in life. This book is not a fast paced, action packed story but a narrative of events that shaped the life of Nora Webster after her husband Maurice died.
The story takes place in Ireland in Enniscorthy. Nora has four children, her older daughters Aine and Fiona are pretty much out on their own. Fiona is studying to become a teacher so she isn’t under the same roof anymore. The younger two are boys, Donal and Conor.
After several chapters it’s revealed that Donal and Conor stayed with Nora’s aunt while she sat by Maurice’s hospital bedside. During this stressful time Nora never visited her sons and there seems to be a lasting effect from the lack of visits and of course, losing their father. Donal developed a very bad stammer and both boys are withdrawn.
I didn’t feel like I was reading an novel so much as being privy to Nora’s thoughts in an abstract journal. When she visited her sisters, Una and Catherine, I could feel the tension and annoyance between them.
Nora’s Aunt Josie visited and said, “I remember you and Catherine and Una after you father died, and it took you all much longer. It was a very sad house then, but children bounce back, that’s the great thing.”
“I don’t think they do. I never did,” Nora said. “You learn, no matter what age you are, to keep things to yourself. “ And she wondered then if she should take Donal to a speech therapist.
Just as Nora kept her thoughts to herself, so did her sons. Perhaps it would have been better to keep them closer during Maurice’s hospital stay. It was mentioned how intrusive her own mother was and I think this must be the reason Nora didn’t get as involved, or express and opinion where perhaps where she ought to, regarding her children.
As I read Nora’s story I formed an opinion of what the real flesh and blood person would be like. I was party to her personal thoughts, many of which she did not share aloud with anyone. As she mourns privately she also explores a life without Maurice. She has new experiences and broadens her knowledge and love of music.
“What she had told no one, because it was too strange, was how much this music had come to stand for. It was her dream-life, a life she might have had if she had been born elsewhere. She allowed herself to live for a time each day in a pure fantasy in which she could have learned the cello as a child and then been photographed as this young woman was, eager and talented and in full possession of her world…”
From start to end spans a 3 year period and the changes in Nora’s life. It’s full of Irish culture and I am always on board for reading a book with an Irish setting.
I would certainly read more by Colm Toibin.
A hot stew would do the trick in Enniscorthy. Check out the recipe HERE and make a big pot for the chilly evenings. Please note I adapted the recipe and used quite a few mushrooms. Great addition!
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