This Booker Prize-nominated novel is a meditation on grief. The title character is a recent widow in late-1960s/early-1970s small town Ireland. The reader spends time with her as she loses herself and then finds herself, retreats and then asserts herself, and isolates herself from her children and then reaches for them. This is a story of small, incremental changes in a shattered life.
There is very little plot -- tea gets poured, dinner gets served, a record player is purchased. But each tiny moment is another layer of grieving.
The mastery of this novel is the way that you come to care about a not-always-likable woman. You see her alienate others. You see her make bad decisions about her children. But she is somehow deeply endearing. You root for her.
The shattering of this small life is the big event, but it occurs under the umbrella of the shattering politics of Ireland during this time. It would help to read up a bit about the history of Ireland and, in particular, the Troubles of the late 20th century. I happen to have travelled to Ireland last summer, so I read this book with that background at hand. It turns out that I actually went to Enniscorthy – the little town in the book.
Here is a interesting article from the Guardian where the author discusses the autobiographical dimensions of the novel. In particular, he talks about how he couldn't put words to his own grief about the death of his father, so the main character became a fictionalized version of his mother.
This is a terrific book if you are looking for a slow, meditative, character-driven story. 24 hours after finishing this book, I am still lost in Nora Webster’s world.