Set in late 1960s Ireland against the backdrop of the growth of the Civil Rights movement, ‘Nora Webster’ is about one woman’s loss of a husband, Maurice, a well respected teacher and member of the local community. It also deals with the impact that his death had on their children, particularly the two younger sons. Several of the interviews given at the time of the publication suggest that it was partially shaped by the death of Tóibín’s own father.
Death, loss and the beautifully observed small town Ireland feature strongly, they are well trodden paths for Tóibín – featuring in some of his other novels, notably ‘Brooklyn.’ As the flow of visitors and people stopping her in the street to ‘pay their respects’ reduces, Nora begins to find a voice for herself and a new confidence through classical music as the beautiful, well-paced novel progresses.
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.
The detail of the Austin A40 (picture Wikipedia Commons) driven by Nora brought back memories of my own youth – trips from the Nottinghamshire coalfield to the south west of Cornwall with five on board, piled high with carefully polythene sheet wrapped ancient cases, precariously balanced on a roof rack of uncertain stability. I digress though ……
Tóibín has a delightful reading voice, which you can almost ‘hear’ in the narrative; it is a voice that I first came across reading a short story by Sylvia Townsend Warner on the excellent New Yorker Fiction Podcast. The YouTube video below has him reading some extracts from Nora Webster as well as discussing it.