Nora Webster

by Colm Toibin

Paperback, 2015

Call number

FIC TOI

Collection

Genres

Publication

Scribner (2015), Edition: Reprint, 400 pages

Description

Widowed at forty, with four children and not enough money, Nora has lost the love of her life, Maurice, the man who rescued her from the stifling world to which she was born. And now she fears she may be drawn back into it. Wounded, strong-willed, clinging to secrecy in a tiny community where everyone knows your business, Nora is drowning in her own sorrow and blind to the suffering of her young sons, who have lost their father. Yet she has moments of stunning empathy and kindness.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Cariola
This is a quiet little book centered around Nora Webster, a fortyish Irish woman living in a small town outside of Dublin in the late 1960s. Her husband Maurice has recently died of a painful illness, and not only is she devastated by the loss, but caring for him in his last weeks seems to have sapped all of her energy. Nora is left alone to raise four children. One daughter, Fiona, is finishing teacher's training in Dublin, and Aine is close to prepping for her final exams, but the boys, Donal and Conor, are still young, vulnerable, and strongly affected by their father's death. Donal has developed a stammer, and while Conor seems fine, Nora wonders if this is so.

The novel follows Nora through a series of changes and struggles, from selling the family's vacation house and taking a job to finally, after six years or so, beginning to blossom as her own person. If you are looking for an exciting, plot-driven novel, Nora Webster will not be your cup of tea. But Toibin's writing is fine, as usual, and his character sketch a full and affectionate one.
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LibraryThing member maryreinert
I really wanted to like this book, but there were parts of it that really seemed strange. Nora Webster is a recent widow of a much beloved teacher. Left with two grown daughters, Aine and Fiona, and two growing sons, Conor and Donal, she finds herself uneasy with her small community and her family after the loss of Maurice. This novel paints a picture of a woman grieving but also relishing a sense of freedom. She has a complicated relationship with her sisters, aunt, and other extended family. She is not particularly likeable; distant from her sons, but trying very hard to be a better mother than what she perceives her own mother had been. However, strange Nora may appear, however, it is evident that she is cared for by those around her. People do go out of their way to befriend her.

Eventually, through music and other activities she begins to find herself. There are some unusual turns to the story such as very serious voice lessons, listening parties for classical music, a community quiz bowl, among others.

Nora is not particularly likeable, but at the same time, the reader can see that she is doing her best for her family. In a strange way, this reminded me of "Olive Kitteridge". Vaguely set against a background of Irish unrest in Northern Ireland.
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LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
I'd forgotten how well Colm Tóibín writes about quiet lives until I was halfway through the first chapter of Nora Webster, and entirely hooked. Set in Ireland, in 1968, the novel centers on a woman in her mid-forties, whose husband has recently died, leaving her to negotiate child-rearing, find a way to support the family and to become someone other than half of a couple. Nora's awesome though, being stubborn and willing to stand her ground when she needs to.

Tóibín is writing about an Ireland that doesn't exist anymore, just as it began to change with the Troubles beginning in Northern Ireland and the conflict a growing concern in the Republic. And women's roles were changing, with Nora's daughters experiencing vastly more freedom than she did. Nora, herself, gets to experience some of that independence, slowly and reluctantly choosing hobbies and interests outside of what her family circle enjoys.

There's no great action in this book, no central conflict to resolve. It unfolds like ordinary life, a series of challenges and decisions to be made and lived with, as Nora works to keep her family going and to find her own feet. And the writing is lovely; unassuming and clear. I'll always read whatever Tóibín decides to write because of the quality of his writing, but I also love the care with which focuses on women who live their lives largely unnoticed by others.
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LibraryThing member thornton37814
Normally I love Toibin's books, but I've found one to which I really never warmed. Nora Webster is a newly widowed mother who must come to terms with her new status and find her own place in the world. I never truly warmed to her character. The book focuses on her relationships with those in the community around her--her neighbors, her children, her co-workers, the schoolmaster, teachers, her voice teacher, and many others. While the writing is good and the author probably had an overarching theme with Nora's progress in the midst of her tragedy, most readers will not pick it up. I received an advance e-galley from the publisher through NetGalley with the expectation that a review would be written. Honestly, if I had not felt that obligation, I probably would have abandoned the book. It simply didn't work for me. I do think that many others will appreciate the book more than I did. The quality of the writing pushes it to a higher star level than I might otherwise give it.… (more)
LibraryThing member icolford
It is the 1960s and Nora Webster's husband Maurice has died young, and she is left to fend for herself and her four children in a small town in Southern Ireland. Maurice was a teacher who was loved and respected throughout the community: a presence whom people gravitated toward, known for his love of company, his compassion and his strong political beliefs. For the years of their marriage Nora was content to exist in his shadow. But with his death she is thrust into the front line of life and must make a go of it. The two girls, Fiona and Aine, are more or less grown and out of the house, but still at home are Conor and Donal, youngsters who must find their way now without a father. Nora daily feels the tremendous loss of her husband--almost minute by minute--but she has no choice but to heal, a process that is gradual and begins with a clearly articulated wish that people would cease their unannounced visits and pitying stares and let her grieve in peace. Eventually she finds herself facing major lifestyle choices (selling the cottage, returning to work) and with each one a subtle distancing from Maurice and his influence takes place, making it easier for her to face the next decision when it comes along. Toibin's novel chronicles Nora's gradual awakening, from tentative widow and mother deferring to the wishes if others and second-guessing her every move, to independent woman getting on with things and making her life her own. The novel is set in life's trenches, where people drag themselves out of bed each morning to face a day that might very well defeat them. Toibin's prose achieves stunning elegance in its very simplicity. The writing is sometimes little more than a chronicle of what happens moment by moment. But this is Toibin's genius. He immerses the reader in Nora's conscious thoughts so that not only do we see the world through her eyes, but we feel her needs and desires and suffer keenly her losses and anxieties and injuries. Such drama as exists is built around encounters and Nora's anticipation (or dread) of them. Because this is art imitating life you might be fooled into thinking you are reading a novel in which nothing happens. It is only at the end when you emerge from Nora’s story and realize where you've been that you grasp the level of skill needed to create a complete and entirely engaging world in prose.… (more)
LibraryThing member oldblack
I'm not sure that Toibin's style suits me entirely, but nonetheless, there was much in this novel to keep me interested. In particular, the response to the death of a significant person (and the reaction of the community) is a topic that interests me, and I think I learnt something from "Nora Webster" in relation to this. Perhaps more interesting were Nora's on-going relationships with her siblings and, (of most interest to me) Nora's relationships with her chilldren. Toibin's not going to get onto my "favourites" list, but he's probably on the next level down.… (more)
LibraryThing member michigantrumpet
This is my second Colm Toibin read. Like the other book, I loved 'Nora Webster' for the lyrical sense of place and character. Few writers can so beautifully capture atmosphere as Toibin. A story of a young Irish widow struggling to mother her young children while coping with finances, grief and finding her way in the world by herself -- has strong resonance for me. Even so, the book dragged just a bit for me. For those looking for a fast paced or event filled tale, look elsewhere. I will be searching out more by this author in the future.… (more)
LibraryThing member Beamis12
In plain and unsentimental prose, Toibin gives us the story of a woman, Nora Webster, whose husband of many years has died. Leaving her alone, with two younger boys and two older daughters, she must find her way through life for herself and her children.

I enjoyed this quiet and unassuming novel, watching Nora and the boys change as Nora learns to live her own life. I loved the moment, three years later, when she realizes she can do what she wants now, that there is no one who can tell her she can't. In this case, it was about redecorating her home. I loved the two boys, they too change in many ways, but the youngest watches closely everything that goes on. It takes great skill as a writer to make the most common events interesting and for me this author did just that.

Taking place in Ireland against the backdrop of the Catholic protestant violence and the burning of the embassy, but also against the backdrop of wonderful music, Nora eventually finds her way forward. It takes the help of family, a wonderful ex-nun who is a music teacher and another nun who watches out for Nora from afar.

A wonderful and unassuming read.

ARC from publisher.
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LibraryThing member eachurch
Colm Toibin is a masterful writer. Nora Webster is a remarkable, but quiet novel which is also extremely disquieting and, at points, almost painful to read. The complexity of Nora's rather ordinary life is portrayed in a moving and subtle way.
LibraryThing member SquirrelHead
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 at squirrel Head Manor 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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LibraryThing member Lightfantastic
Colm Toibin is becoming one of my favorite authors. This story of a young widow in 1969 rings so true, it seems almost to be someone I knew, rather than a fictional account. The description of her learning to sing is positively transcendent. I adored this book.
LibraryThing member bobbieharv
I love his writing. After the first chapter I was a little afraid the whole book would be depressing, about this lonely sort of prickly woman who had just lost her husband, but her gradual development of a life on her own was just lovely to read. And her personality emerged just as gradually. Prickly as she was, I came to understand her, feel for her, and like her.… (more)
LibraryThing member honkcronk
Enjoyable story and well written by Colm Toibin! I enjoyed his other book, Brooklyn, and was happy to see another book by him. The story is about a new widow and her family in Ireland and how they slowly adjust to life without "dad". It is not an unusual tale, but since it takes place in Ireland, the community and culture is part of the story. I enjoy books about Ireland.

The voice of the book is Nora. Colm writes very well -- I always wonder how he can be so convincing in the telling of a story of a woman. It is the same in his other book, Brooklyn.

I will recommend to my book club for next years readings.
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LibraryThing member Doondeck
The Irish comes through like a soft sip of Jameson's. Nora is both sad and strong; indecisive and indomitable.
LibraryThing member tututhefirst
Although I own the e-book, I devoured about 80% of this one in audio. I loved the dulcet tones of Fiona Shaw's narration. It was perfect to tell the beautifully written story of Nora Webster, widowed at age 40, who had 2 grown daughters, and two pre-teen sons at the time her beloved Maurice died a painful premature death. Toibin skillfully lets us into the terror she faces as she balances a precarious budget, learns to live a lonelier life, and eventually comes to terms with her change in status and opportunities. A truly elegant story, one worth reading in any format.… (more)
LibraryThing member Citizenjoyce
Nice little story of growth about a woman and her four children, not your usual Irish horror story.
LibraryThing member thewanderingjew
The book begins around the time of man’s first walk on the moon and ends in 1972, just about three years later. This is a really good story, unlike many written today which simply entice the reader with erotic scenes or blood and guts. It is about an ordinary woman, in Ireland, during the time when there is unrest between the Protestants and the Catholics, the English and the Irish. It doesn’t delve too much into the politics apart from how it might affect an individual family and how a family might be divided within itself about the political issues of the times.
Nora Webster, about 40 years old, has been recently widowed. Her husband, beloved by the small community in which she lives, is sorely missed by everyone, the townspeople, her children and herself. As she tries to come to terms with her new situation, she is a bit unprepared for the future. Financially she is not secure. Emotionally she is not yet comfortable. She muddles through the days and weeks making decisions, perhaps only she will regret, for she discovers, slowly, that no one can judge her any longer or influence her any longer. She is truly on her own if she wishes it. Sometimes she is not sure which situation she prefers, having someone to consult or consulting no one.
As a character, Nora is so clearly drawn that you can almost join her on most of her excursions, sitting next to her or standing nearby, like an imaginary friend observing her from a short distance. She navigates through her days as bits of memory rise up, sparked by different remarks or events taking place in the moment, a glance from someone, a place she remembers, a bit of melody she hears, a child’s reaction, a comment from a former colleague of her husband, a face in the crowd that reminds her of someone or something, for at any moment, something may jog her memory and take her back to her grief. She does not really seem that connected to her children, and yet she is quite aware of and very sensitive to their feelings. She tries to confront the children’s needs based on her own background and thus, having had an overbearing mother, she maintains more space between herself and them, often letting things simply work out by themselves or deciding on a course of action and quickly changing her mind with some abandon. At times her behavior seemed to be a sign of not wanting to be involved, or of a bit of laziness, selfishness or weakness, but in the end, her decisions were her own, she owned up to them and made them work. She often questioned herself and her ability to guide the family. Her husband, Maurice, was more involved with major decisions than she had been and she was often at a loss as to how to proceed. Some of her decisions were impetuous and not well thought out, but she had to live with them. She grew stronger as time went by and she came into her own, realizing her own abilities and strengths. A different Nora is developing and roaming free, a Nora her husband would never have known nor possibly appreciated.
Nora as an independent woman is very different than the Nora who was happily married. She realizes that there were parts of her personality that remained dormant under the thumbs of those around her who were stronger. Alone, she looks for, finds and grows into herself, finding pleasure in surprising places and comfort in her individuality and even her loneliness. She surprises herself with her confidence and strength.
On the negative side, I didn’t fee that comfortable with the conclusion, I felt as if it stopped at the edge of a cliff and didn’t go far enough. After introducing Aine’s political struggles, I would have liked to learn more about them. After watching Nora thrive, I would have liked to see if she continued to grow stronger and assume a more prominent place in the village. Would Donal lose his stammer and would the predictions of her husband, when he came to her in a dream come true? How would Conor fare? Who is the other? There were unanswered questions, with no hope of resolution, which left me hanging and a little disappointed. Otherwise, it was a really good story for a change, something interesting to ponder and not view as disguised trash.
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LibraryThing member MarilynKinnon
Boring details of widow's recovery, Tedious and no development at all.
LibraryThing member aine.fin
Book Club January 2015. Really enjoyed this portrait of grief. Not hurried yet moves along nicely. Nuanced characters who seem like people you know. Interesting how an ordinary family and its interactions can be so fascinating.
LibraryThing member RandyMetcalfe
The novel begins with Nora Webster’s husband, Maurice, having died and it follows her protracted period of grief and reclamation over the ensuing few years. Maurice was a high school teacher who was greatly respected and much loved. By association, Nora falls under the care of her community even to the point of that care becoming suffocating. She has been left with two young sons and two older daughters. And somehow she will have to find a way to persevere, to make herself anew, or to find herself amidst the flotsam of her youthful inclinations and talent and what has remained to her after her years as a wife and mother. First, she returns to work in the office of a large company, a place that she worked before she got married. Later, she rekindles a love of music and, with the help of devoted music teacher, sets out to hone her voice which has lain dormant for many years. Of course the lives of her children, her sisters, and the other relatives who live nearby do not come to a standstill waiting on Nora to come back to life. So she is forced to deal with some of their challenges even as she struggles to deal with her own.

This is a quiet tale of grief, motherhood and more. Tóibín portrays Nora as initially filled with self-doubt, second guessing her own decisions and actions. Gradually she gains confidence, part of which no doubt draws on the steely determination she manifested as a child. And so she draws upon her earlier incarnations of self as she moves toward a settled new form of being, after Maurice, and in her own right. Of especial note here is the sensitive way in which Tóibín deals with the two sons, Donal and Conor, both of whom have been greatly affected by the death of their father.

The writing is patient and lingering. It never feels as though Tóibín is forcing his own impressions on to Nora or the others. Their individual complexities are their own and he seems satisfied to merely relate them to us. Perhaps not as subtle and understated as his earlier novel, Brooklyn, but enticing all the same. Gently recommended.
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LibraryThing member Vivl
I unfortunately had to miss the book club meeting during which Nora Webster was discussed but emailed through my review as follows:

"I knew that Nora was dealing with terrible grief, but much of her choice of action towards her children (and others) didn't seem to be necessarily connected with that but more to do with her abrasive and largely self-centred personality. Gradually I came to understand that she was in part reacting, unfortunately, against a childhood that was uncomfortable, but by the point that that little bit of information was revealed I was pretty much over her.

There's a strong possibility that I'm influenced by my own childhood experiences in this as I recognise my own emotionally disconnected mum (due to untreated anxiety & depression) in Nora and feel sad and fearful for her own children as a result.

The last quarter was an improvement, but overall I'm not tempted to run out and pick up another of this author's works."

Since sending through that email a few days ago I have come to feel strongly that my instinct regarding my personal family history was correct and it is the personal emotional discomfort this book caused me that lead me to an overall negative reaction. I have since heard that Tóibín wrote this over something like a decade and a bit and drew closely on his own childhood experience, so maybe he got it all out in the one book and I can try his other works without expecting to be brought face to face with my own, still intense it would seem, childhood-derived pain.

Some of our book club members had very positive reactions while others felt largely the same way I did, so it is fair to say that opinions vary and I would certainly not wish dissuade anyone from reading this and forming their own opinion.
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LibraryThing member hazel1123
I liked this book and I cared about Nora. She is not a perfect person - in particular she was not a perfect 'widow'. At times she was very selfish, self centered and certainly not always likable. She often acts out on her anger and people around her are hurt because of it. All of this seemed very normal and made me care about her. This is not a fast moving, plot centered story but it kept my interest all the way though it.… (more)
LibraryThing member bodachliath
Colm Tóibín is at his best describing what in lesser hands might be mundane source material. Like two of his best early novels "The heather blazing" and "The Blackwater lightship", this one is set in the Wexford of his childhood, and tells the story of a widow's struggles to form a new identity after the premature death of her much loved husband and fighting the conformist expectations of family, church and society. A hugely enjoyable, touching and somewhat elliptical story, strong on period detail and with plenty of dry humour… (more)
LibraryThing member brangwinn
Another gentle story that captures the emotions of a new widow in a small Irish town. Toibin has an art of making everyday people important. Enter pieces for a story. And in this one it was delightful to see a quiet woman come into h own, worrying less about what others thought of he and more about what she wanted.
LibraryThing member froxgirl
An Irish widow's lament and recovery should be a simple process to Nora's permanently nosy Wexford neighbors and family. But in reality, her life is a jumble of internal quakes and painful remembrances. Nora has four kids and a horrible job, and the Troubles are starting in Northern Ireland. Nora also has a beautiful singing voice and enough money to buy a record player so she can hold her head high at the Gramophone Club. Three years pass as if the reader has had a seat at the kitchen table for some tea. Here are unsolved mysteries and unknown knowns, and fine writing.… (more)

Pages

400

ISBN

1439170932 / 9781439170939
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