Nora Webster by Colm Toibin (Penguin)


“You must be fed up with them. Will they never stop coming?”

WE are back in Enniscorthy on the south east tip of Ireland midway between Dublin and Cork. We have already met Nora tangentially in Brooklyn. Eilis’s mother called her the “nicest of people in the whole town”. And there is the photograph taken at Cush. And Eilis’s brother Jack Lacey who moved to Birmingham.

The sea howls. The sky is bruised. She put fresh scones on a plate with melting butter and poured the tea. In a subtle way that sentence shows how well Toibin writes. It moves us along without fuss, the butter is melting, she is pouring the tea. Things are happening all around. It is alive.

We begin in grand Irish style with a funeral. I can’t tell you how sorry I am. Nora is widowed with the two boys. The two girls are away at school.

Starting with a death is a bit of an advantage for a story teller because it brings everyone into focus without prejudicing any future actions or in this case reactions. Not that you are expecting a mad axeman out of this slice of middle Eiredom. Toibin draws you carefully into his village.

It was as “though she had been in a car accident, it was this wandering in a sea of people with the anchor lifted”. This sea ebbs with nuns, with the Troubles in the north, with chat from the golf club, with the need to go back to work. There is emancipation, out of grief.

There are some wonderful, deep characters here too. I totally like the bit part Billy who is tone deaf but marries the music teacher, a former nun. He builds her a soundproof studio for classes so he does not have to hear her. The edges of each character carefully overlap in the village, in the factory, in the politics, big and small, their concerns shuffling like gossip around town and family…almost exploding with tension at the town quiz.

We are on the cusp of rural life, of a distant America, of an Ireland past, all rubbing along side by side, an Ireland in the ’60s and ’70s. Nora has angst over whether she should buy a record player…a stereo record player, that is. Or a phone?

Her journey out of widowhood is also that of the other people of Enniscorthy, and around, at the time.


About drewsmith28

Words, words, words...
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