“It was all over and would not come back”
Colm Tóibín is a writer with an astonishing ability to write from inside the minds of women. He focuses particularly on writing beautifully complex women who are in some ways held back from really flowering into their full potential, because society at large has inhibited this, and they have, on the outside at least, conformed to those strictures.
Nora Webster, the eponymous central character, is a woman from a small town, Enniscorthy in County Wexford (where Tóibín is from), who has recently been widowed. Her teacher husband, Maurice, interested in political debate, more outgoing than Nora, has died from a degenerative heart condition. Nora has her own grieving to do, and also concerns about her 4 children, two daughters, one almost at the end of her teacher training, one about to enter tertiary education, and her two younger sons, the eldest nudging adolescence, one still very much a child. It is the late 60’s, and feminism is beginning to seep into wider consciousness.
Tóibín explores the fact that though relationships enrich us, they also inhibit a different development which might have happened. Most beautifully, with warmth, compassion, and a lovely humour he leads us into Nora’s journey through grief. But Nora also follows a half yearned for, half-resisted growth into independence and change, as she discovers that she has abilities, opinions, gifts and desires which she had subsumed beneath the role of being a wife and mother within a loving marriage. Now, she is the one who must make decisions, and some of these are for her own happiness, not only the happiness of her children.
Living in a tight knit community, where everyone knows each other, and people inhabit specific places and roles, friends, family and neighbours may be wonderfully warm and caring, but sometimes, as Nora finds, that care may be stultifying, despite coming from a well-meaning place. Though superficially she is a woman fairly conventionally within her milieu, what bubbles, sometimes with difficulty, free, is a more ornery, passionate, highly intelligent, stubborn and feisty woman.
In future, she hoped, fewer people would call. In future, once the boys went to bed, she might have the house to herself more often. She would learn how to spend these hours. In the peace of these winter evenings, she would work out how she was going to live
From small beginnings, making momentous decisions such as selling the family holiday home, getting a fairly menial clerical job, and even getting a haircut and colour which others think is more suitable for a younger woman, Nora grows and changes.
Wonderfully, Tóibín doesn’t turn her into an angel; she is at times wilful, stubborn, tactless, and selfish – in other words, a very real and authentically human person. And part of the great pleasure of this warmly written book is that though loss, pain, grief are at the heart of it, there is a rich enjoyment, the deep and ordinary pleasure in life – in the day to day, the buying of an expensive dress and feeling grand in it, as well as the finding of transcending, deeper pleasures, such as music which stirs the soul.
This is in many ways a very simply written, accessible book, but its simplicity is extraordinarily skilful. Tóibín is a master story teller; one so good that he creates the illusion that to write like this is utterly effortless.
I was happily pointed towards this by fellow blogger FictionFan. Though we can find that what one loves the other hates and vice versa, this one at least left me purring as loudly as it left her, as you will discover if you read her review
I received this as a copy for review, from the publisher, via NetGalley. Many thanks