Nora Webster by Colm Toibin

Nora Webster - Colm Tóibín

Nora Webster was a wholly character-driven novel and while I took my time over it, when I picked it up, I was drawn into its world that depicted the life of a recent widow.


This was the first book by Colm Toibin that I’ve read, but it won’t be the last. Set in Wexford, Ireland, it’s written in the third person past tense and tells the story of Nora Webster, a forty year old woman with four children who was recently widowed when her husband, Maurice, died of tuberculosis. We follow her as she tries to adapt and is forced to make changes, returning to a life she left behind long ago.


Nora was a very complex character. She’s strong-willed, but deeply wounded by the death of her husband and fails to see how much it has affected her two young boys.
It was hard in a way to get to grips with Nora because of her complexity. I felt quite distanced from her at times, but at other’s, I felt a deep empathy towards her. On one hand she was caustic, but on the other she was extremely kind and warm. Her grief was communicated on such an acute level that I felt almost confused by her. It’s a testament to the author that he grasped grief so effectively.


There were times when I strongly disagreed with choices that Nora made, but I understood her motivation, which proves how expertly the author handled the human condition.


I would highly recommend this book as a master class in characterisation, but would say that paradoxically, the authenticity of Nora may serve at times to distance the reader.