NORA WEBSTER, by Colm Tóibín, is a study of grief and widowhood like no other.
I read and loved BROOKLYN five years ago when it came out. A quiet character study of a young woman from Ireland in exile in America. Now we have Nora Webster, a young widow in the prime of her life. Her beloved Maurice, taken from her and her four children. Maurice was the love of her life. How will she survive without him? She is so devastated that she bends inside herself and goes “under the porch.” That’s a term I use to describe the desperate inward wanderings of our minds when we can no longer abide this world. I’ve gone under the porch. I have friends who have gone under. I have even known dear pets to go under the porch in their minds. They need to heal.
Nora Webster lives in Wexford county, Ireland. She’s barely forty years-old, and is now widowed with four children to care for, plus, what remains of herself. She’s not left devastated financially, though they will have to pull it together and tuck in. But she’s left bereft and at sea as to what to do with her life. Her two daughters are off to higher education. It’s the two young sons who are left to suffer the most. You see, while Nora nursed Maurice through his last days, they were left with a family member. Donal, who now has a stutter, is suffering in ways Nora doesn’t at first understand.
This unique and stunningly written character study of widowhood and life in Ireland in the 1960’s, beautifully captures the mind and life of Nora. It is full of the minutia of daily living that bring this lovely novel so to life. This small world that is holding Nora prison in her chasm of grief and frustration of community, is the only place she knows. And it is full of Maurice and the life they’ve lived together.
In the background we quietly hear the drums of “Bloody Sunday” and the hush of the Catholics vs Protestants. Of course this hum is gathering strength and ambition throughout the story. It’s just there. Hanging.
When Nora is invited to take singing lessons through a woman who was once a nun, she begins to blossom like a flower. You can feel the transformation as Nora discovers something that she did not have before with Maurice. This singing is hers, hers alone.
There are those who will say this novel is way too quiet for them. They will ask, “Where’s the action?” The action is in the mind. Tóibín is a brilliant writer. NORA WEBSTER is bound to win prizes. Rightly so.