Irish novels tend to be a bit melancholy, with the local environment heavily influencing the characters. Not so much Dublin, but the small towns are like hives—closely quartered, each knowing the others’ business.
Thus, Nora Webster begins her life as a middle-aged widow, two children grown and two still at home. The story has no big climax, just the natural ups and downs of growing children, helpful family and friends, and a town that knows everything you do. Lack of privacy is Nora’s angst. When her husband was alive, she shadowed her life under his, with perfect contentment. Now, she is visible, a person of interest.
Skillfully woven in the background is the beginning of the Irish “troubles”. Catholics in Northern Ireland are beginning to march, demanding more representation and the cessation of British oppression. It’s clear that politics plays an important, but underlying role.
Tóibín does nothing to glamorize the lives of his characters. It’s the late 60’s, and Nora does not even have a telephone, an early reveal about her personality. But few complain about this, even though they become involved in relaying messages and substituting for phone booths. The community cares. And Nora develops a single life on her terms, both private and public.
The book is 375 pages that flew by. The writing is so solid, the characters so grounded and the plot, though not surprising, pulls you along. Highly recommended for a gentle summer read.