‘Nora Webster’ by Colm Tóibín: influenced by Joan Didion?

Colm Tóibín gave an enthusiastic review to ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ by Joan Didion. This blog has looked at that detailed study of bereavement already. In ‘Nora Webster’, Tóibín has created a main character who is coping with the loss of her husband.

While I have yet to complete my reading of the subtle and moving ‘Nora Webster’, I could not avoid thinking about what inspired Tóibín to write about the grief of a woman in the first instance. Of course, he has written about grieving people before, ‘The Testament of Mary’ being a recent example. Nonetheless, the factual account by Didion may well have been of utility to him.

Obviously, to suggest that a writer could have been influenced by a text is not to disparage their work. It is simply to draw attention to the way in which stories can lead to stories, or stories within stories. One doesn’t have to be an enthusiastic postmodernist to appreciate how creativity is not necessarily an individual act. The individual is a social animal, socialised within a family, a local area, a school, a state, and so on. So far, ‘Nora Webster’ seems to be in the same quiet vein as ‘Brooklyn’, and it is ticking many of the right boxes.


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