cover image Nora Webster

Nora Webster

Colm Tóibín. Scribner, $27 (384p) ISBN 978-1-4391-3833-5

Tóibín’s 10th novel offers a compelling portrait of an Irish woman for whom fate has prescribed loneliness. Widowed at 40, with four children and shaky finances, Nora rejects condolences and pity. She is so intent on making her children’s lives normal that she ignores their need to mourn as well. In the wake of her husband’s terminal illness, she instills fear and bewilderment in her two younger boys; they have nightmares, and one begins to stutter. The two girls, away at school, are resentful as well. Nora is sometimes obtuse about the choices she makes. She is short-tempered and sharp-tongued, and she makes significant mistakes—but her frailties make her an appealing character. Catholicism is woven into the setting of 1970s Enniscorthy. The Church is represented by a mean, small-minded teacher in the Christian Brothers monastery school and by a saintly nun who acts as guardian angel for the family. Several years pass, in which Nora gradually finds an unexpected fulfillment in a talent she had never acknowledged. Tóibín (Brooklyn) never employs dramatic fireworks to add an artificial boost to the narrative. No new suitor magically appears to fall in love with Nora. Instead, she remains a brave woman learning how to find a meaningful life as she goes on alone. (Oct.)