Book review: Nora Webster

Colm TóibínThis novel by Colm Tóibín is such a slow burn. I came to it after reading a thriller, so perhaps that’s why the pace seemed so slow. And then I took a deep breathe and let myself sink into the deep pool of the story. Reading this book was a little like listening to my mother tell the story of her life, tiny baby steps. The everyday voice of Nora, a kind of everywoman, is so clear. An ordinary woman, she is grieving for her husband Maurice and living in a world of echoes. This is a novel about grief, living with grief, and the slow re-awakening of life. Tiny baby steps.

Nora cannot indulge her grief. For one thing, money is short and her two young sons must be cared for. Her two daughters too, though older, need their mother although they don’t think they do. Nora struggles to get through her own day in which every minute is shadowed by her loss, but life gets in the way, decisions must be made. Day to day she does the best she can, trying to get the everyday detail right but not seeing how her sons’ grief is manifesting itself. Instead she worries about paying the bills and avoiding people in the street who want to pay their respects. Colm Tóibín [below] has created a timeless rural Ireland where everyone knows everyone else from childhood, where the etiquette of grief is followed, where it is difficult to have secrets.

Colm Tóibín


As readers we experience all of this in Nora’s own mind, we are inside her head: this is Tóibín’s real skill. It would be easy to say this is a book about the grief of an Irish woman, and not much else. And to be fair, there is not a lot of action in the first half of the book. Then, unable to say ‘no’ to an invitation as it would be impolite, Nora starts to sing. And that is the first baby step of her re-awakening.

At the beginning, I wondered if I would finish it. When I finished it, I wanted to start reading it again.

For Colm Tóibín’s website, click here.
Why does Colm Tóibín love listening to the radio? Click here to read an interview with The Telegraph.

If you like ‘Nora Webster’, try these other Irish novels:-
‘A Long Long Way’ by Sebastian Barry
‘Himself’ by Jess Kidd
‘A History of Loneliness’ by John Boyne

‘Nora Webster’ by Colm Tóibín [UK: Viking] Buy now

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
NORA WEBSTER by Colm Tóibín #bookreview via @SandraDanby


  1. I find this a lot with Colm Toibin’s work. He starts off quiet, you think not much is happening, but by the end you are consumed. Brooklyn was like that for me. He is also incredibly good at writing from a female perspective.