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Nora Webster: A Novel Hardcover – October 7, 2014
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An Amazon Best Book of the Month, October 2014: Atmospheric and emotional, Colm Toibin’s (Brooklyn, The Master) seventh novel is the story of a forty-year-old widow in 1960s/70s rural Ireland who’s on the verge of slipping back into the isolated life from which her husband had rescued her. Nora Webster is, like Toibin’s best characters, iconoclastic, strong and deep. When she loses her beloved Maurice to a long and horrible illness, she seems beyond help: she resents the neighbors’ well-meaning questions and concerns and she’s so grief stricken she barely notices how her children are suffering. Nora is not entirely likable—a self-centered person mired in depression rarely is. But Nora is also proud, fierce and angry—and slowly, slowly she wins you over. Even more important, she eventually finds a way to save herself. This is not a novel that makes a lot of noise—and yet it’s musical. It has a kind of deliberate, note-by-note crescendo—but very few crashing cymbals—as Nora rediscovers her love of singing, learns how art can help her navigate through grief, and how music can help even the most quiet among us to regain our voice. – Sara Nelson
“A high-wire act of an eighth novel… Toibin’s radical restraint elevates what might have been a familiar tale of grief and survival into a realm of heightened inquiry. The result is a luminous, elliptical novel in which everyday life manages, in moments, to approach the mystical… There is much about Nora Webster that we never know. And her very mystery is what makes her regeneration, when it comes, feel universal.” (Jennifer Egan, The New York Times Book Review)
“[Nora Webster] may actually be a perfect work of fiction… There is no pyrotechny in the writing — just compassion and shrewd insight. Which is where Toibin's brilliance lies… People call Toibin a beautiful writer because they don't know how otherwise to classify such a delicate talent, such empathic simplicity. Some mysteries can't be deciphered by criticism. Colm Toibin is not a beautiful writer, he's merely a great one.” (Darin Strauss, The Los Angeles Times)
"Fascinating... Revelatory... More thoughtful than Emma Bovary and less self-destructive, in the end far and away a better parent than the doomed Anna Karenina for all the latter’s dramatic posturing, Nora Webster is easily as memorable as either—and far more believable. To say more would spoil a masterful— and unforgettable—novel." (Betsy Burton NPR)
“The Ireland of four decades ago is beautifully evoked… Completely absorbing [and] remarkably heart-affecting.” (Booklist (starred review))
“Compelling…an emotionally satisfying read…powerful.” (The Associated Press)
“Toibin’s restraint, sly humor and gentle prose cadence echo those of another Irish master, William Trevor. So does his affection for his characters… How Nora chooses to make her voice heard and how her children find ways to express their own pain provide Nora Webster’s plot and pleasure…a so-called average life can make for a thrilling read…Toibin presents one woman’s life keenly observed and honored with compassion. With Enniscorthy, he also creates a town, constrained and forever behind the times though it is, that feels like the whole world.” (The Miami Herald)
“[A] quietly moving study of a complex character and her ambiguous feelings toward the web of family and neighbors surrounding her in the small town of Enniscorthy…. All his books share precise, restrained prose, which can, in its simplicity, reach elegance.” (Maya Muir, The Portland Oregonian)
“Miraculous… a strikingly restrained novel about a woman awakening from grief and discovering her own space, her own will…extraordinary... [Toibin] portrays Nora with tremendous sympathy and understanding.” (Ron Charles, The Washington Post)
“Toibin artfully shows us a Nora unmoored…This quiet, wrenching novel conceals considerable human turbulence beneath its placid surface. So Toibin has learned well from Henry James…In many ways, Nora Webster would bring an admiring smile to the Master’s lips.” (Daniel Dyer, Cleveland Plain Dealer)
"A deeply moving portrait of the flowering of a self-liberated woman, Nora Webster tells the story of all the invisible battles the heart faces every day." (Buzzy Jackson, Boston Globe)
“Momentous, made with consummate art… It does everything we ought to ask of a great novel: that it respond to the fullness of our lives, be as large as life itself.” (Tessa Hadley, The Guardian)
“Each paragraph of these pages rewards rereading, so deftly are they composed, and so full of pathos and insight.” (Claud Peck, The Minneapolis Star Tribune)
“Richly detailed… Tóibín’s slow pacing results in bright moments of beauty.” (The New Yorker)
“Heart-rendingly transcendent… Mr. Toibin’s prose has an elegant, visceral simplicity.” (Janet Maslin, The New York Times)
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
The relatives and townspeople had all visited as part of the mourning process, and now Nora was on her own. Nora has an mind of her own, and she is not easily led into anything she does not agree with. She finds her emotions that were pent up, coming out in strange ways. Donal has developed a stutter, and she wonders what to do. Her sister, Catherine has money to assist, but that means giving up control.
During the three years since Maurice's death we follow Nora and her thoughts. This story is told from her perspective. She gradually finds her way clear from the deepest of grief, and finds her love of music and her singing voice renewed. She starts to engage with her children, friends and relatives. Nora is an engaging woman, and from snippets of her past life, we find she could be a difficult woman. Maurice, her husband, was the love of her life and her salvation, and, now, here she was, starting anew.
Colm Toibin is one of my favorite authors. His novels are often about women, and he has keen insight. We get a glimpse of what life might be like with the 'troubles' in Northern Ireland, and how they impact on life everywhere in Ireland. Everyone knows the problems of each other in this small Irish town, and life as it was is portrayed in real time. This is not a story with fast paced narratives, but of the days in the life. Such a well written novel, it ended too quickly.
Recommended. prisrob 10-1214
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Have also listened to the audiobook which I also recommend.