‘Nora Webster’ by Colm Tóibín: reviewed.

This quiet novel about bereavement was composed with a great deal of skill. It seemed at times that the prose was reaching a level of plainness that was remarkable even for this prolific and talented writer. There was never a need to reach for a dictionary; the work was dissimilar to that of John Banville, for example. Nonetheless, poetry, politics, music, and religion were never faraway- complexities bubbled away beneath the surface of the family drama, emerging as the minor crises came and went.

Perhaps the first section of the book was written in a more crafted way than later sections, but this possible unevenness was not a problem for the reader. As long as you kept faith with the narrative then this wasn’t an obstacle to learning and pleasure. And you did not need any religious faith to appreciate the text. Similarly, the underlining of the perfidy of the British state did not mean that a British reader was made too uncomfortable- in fact, the depiction of moderate Irish nationalism was quite persuasive.

With any realist novel, a certain degree of faith in the author is needed. And faith is a paradoxical thing. As a young character in the narrative stammered:

“That f-first b-belief is a mystery. It is like a g-gift. And the r-rest is rational, or it c-can be.”


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