Colm Toibin is one of the most loved of contemporary novelists. Of his numerous books I have read and posted on The Master (a wonderful book on the London years of Henry James), Brooklyn, The Testament of Mary, a collection of short stories, Mothers and Sons, and his fascinating nonfiction work on Lady Gregory, Lady Gregory's Tooth Brush.
I just completed his latest novel Nora Webster. Set in Wexford, Ireland (around 1968 to 1972, based on current events) it focuses on a woman both amazing and ordinary, Nora Webster, trying to cope with the impact of being left a widow at forty with four children to raise on her own, two boys and two teenage girls. Her husband, Maurice, a teacher, rescued her from a stifling office environment. He supported the family and she took care of them. We see her trying to shield her children from money problems. She has to sell their vacation home to start. I really don't want to tell too much of the very exciting plot. I will say Toibin is such a master that he can create great excitement out of the events of everyday life without having to resort to plot pyro-theatrics.
I will just mention some of the things I like about this very moving beautiful novel, which I predict will be another best seller.
The character of Nora Webster is brilliantly drawn. You can see she is devastated by the loss of her husband of twenty years but she knows she must go on for the sake of the children. In one great set piece she ends up going back to work the office she left to marry Maurice. A woman she hated, you will hate her also, is now the office manager. Seeing Nora adjust to the people in the office was just compleletly wonderful. There are lots of class markers in the story and these were very interesting. I also liked the use of Ireland as the place setting. I imagined myself walking down Grafton Street,before it became full of tourist places on a trip to the big city to shop. It is a time of terrible troubles in Northern Ireland and Nora is worried one of her daughters going to school in Dublin will get in trouble in political protests. Protestors burn the British Embassy in Dublin and for a very tense week Nora loses touch with her daughter. We also see her trying to help her sons cope with their adolescent years. Nora is a strong,good Irish mother trying to get by as best can. We learn a lot about small town Ireland versus Dublin.
There are lots of very interesting things in Nora Webster, much more than i have mentioned.
I throughly enjoyed reading this work and hope in time to read lots more by Toibin.
A full biography and information on all of his books can be found on his web page.