Book Review – Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín.


This character led book about a widowed mother of four living in a small town in Co Wexford Ireland in the late 1960’s felt to me like a hypnotic long stream of consciousness, with a bit of local Irish gossip thrown in. I’m guessing it was written effortlessly as only a good writer is able to do. I could hear the local accents in my mind and it felt as though I was a detached observer to the events of Nora Webster’s life following the death of her schoolteacher husband Maurice. Once I was used to the writing style, was soon drawn into the story though and wanted to carry on reading it until the end.

Newly widowed Nora barely kept her contemptuous irritation hidden towards the constant visitors to her home expressing condolences and uttering the usual platitudes expressed to anyone newly bereaved.

Despite the sale of the neglected summer holiday home used by her family when Maurice was alive, Nora worried about finances and how she would cope without finding some form of employment to supplement the widows pension she received from the state. When a local employer and one she’d worked for before her marriage offers her some work, she feels almost obliged to accept, even though she’d be working directly under an old adversary, a Miss Kavanagh with whom she hadn’t had a very good relationship with in the past.

Of her four children, one daughter Aine is away at university in Dublin and Fiona is away at a further education school there. Nora’s two sons Conor and Donal, still live at home.

Both Conor and Donal appear to be affected by grief for their father with Donal developing a worsening stammer and Conor bed wetting. Donal spends a lot of time just sitting in the classrooms where his father taught and develops an obsessional interest in photography

Nora’s sisters have developed bonds with the boys and one, Margaret has a helpful but rather secretive relationship with them and rather oddly their mother isn’t included in discussions about their futures, including the decision for Donal to be a full time fourth year boarder at a Christian Brother’s boarding school.

Snippets of world history are included in the book with Donal’s burgeoning obsessional interest in photography leading him to want to photograph all the events on TV leading up to the moon landing and walk in 1969

There were snippets of Irish history that added interest in the book including the events of the civil rights marches in Derry beginning in 1968 and leading up to the shooting and killing of 14 innocent civilians by the British Army on 30th January 1972 on what became known as Bloody Sunday.

In the book, Aine took part in the protests in Dublin, that included the burning of The British Embassy in Dublin. It was all shown on TV in the Republic of Ireland and there were varying reactions from those who watched the events unfolding.

Nora was an admirer of Charles Haughey an Irish Fianna Fáil politician (later served as Taoiseach) and he became something of a hero to her, especially with his part in the increases in widows pensions. He also became a bit of an Irish folk hero when implicated in the Arms Crisis in 1970.

Nora, influenced by friends who weren’t a part of her life before Maurice died introduce her to some surprising new hobbies which take up quite a bit of her free time.

This was the first book I’ve read by Colm Tóibín.

Although I found the ending a bit flat and wanted more in a ‘what happened next?’ way, Would I read more from this author? Yes, I would definitely.

  • Publication date: 2 Oct 2014
  • Publisher: Penguin
  • Language: English


Image via Wikipedia

Colm Tóibín was born in Enniscorthy in 1955. He is the author of nine novels including The Master, Brooklyn, The Testament of Mary and Nora Webster. His work has been shortlisted for the Booker three times, has won the Costa Novel Award and the Impac Award. His most recent novel is House of Names. He has also published two collections of stories and many works of non-fiction. He lives in Dublin.

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To Purchase from Waterstones

4 thoughts on “Book Review – Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín.

Add yours

  1. I thought this was a lovely book, much more interesting than a later one called Brooklyn which is set in the same village in Ireland. He’s a fabulous writer though so I hope you do pick up another of his books

    Liked by 1 person

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