The book begins around the time of man’s first walk on the moon and ends in 1972, just about three years later. This is a really good story, unlike many written today which simply entice the reader with erotic scenes or blood and guts. It is about an ordinary woman, in Ireland, during the time when there is unrest between the Protestants and the Catholics, the English and the Irish. It doesn’t delve too much into the politics apart from how it might affect an individual family and how a family might be divided within itself about the political issues of the times.
Nora Webster, about 40 years old, has been recently widowed. Her husband, beloved by the small community in which she lives, is sorely missed by everyone, the townspeople, her children and herself. As she tries to come to terms with her new situation, she is a bit unprepared for the future. Financially she is not secure. Emotionally she is not yet comfortable. She muddles through the days and weeks making decisions, perhaps only she will regret, for she discovers, slowly, that no one can judge her any longer or influence her any longer. She is truly on her own if she wishes it. Sometimes she is not sure which situation she prefers, having someone to consult or consulting no one.
As a character, Nora is so clearly drawn that you can almost join her on most of her excursions, sitting next to her or standing nearby, like an imaginary friend observing her from a short distance. She navigates through her days as bits of memory rise up, sparked by different remarks or events taking place in the moment, a glance from someone, a place she remembers, a bit of melody she hears, a child’s reaction, a comment from a former colleague of her husband, a face in the crowd that reminds her of someone or something, for at any moment, something may jog her memory and take her back to her grief. She does not really seem that connected to her children, and yet she is quite aware of and very sensitive to their feelings. She tries to confront the children’s needs based on her own background and thus, having had an overbearing mother, she maintains more space between herself and them, often letting things simply work out by themselves or deciding on a course of action and quickly changing her mind with some abandon. At times her behavior seemed to be a sign of not wanting to be involved, or of a bit of laziness, selfishness or weakness, but in the end, her decisions were her own, she owned up to them and made them work. She often questioned herself and her ability to guide the family. Her husband, Maurice, was more involved with major decisions than she had been and she was often at a loss as to how to proceed. Some of her decisions were impetuous and not well thought out, but she had to live with them. She grew stronger as time went by and she came into her own, realizing her own abilities and strengths. A different Nora is developing and roaming free, a Nora her husband would never have known nor possibly appreciated.
Nora as an independent woman is very different than the Nora who was happily married. She realizes that there were parts of her personality that remained dormant under the thumbs of those around her who were stronger. Alone, she looks for, finds and grows into herself, finding pleasure in surprising places and comfort in her individuality and even her loneliness. She surprises herself with her confidence and strength.
On the negative side, I didn’t fee that comfortable with the conclusion, I felt as if it stopped at the edge of a cliff and didn’t go far enough. After introducing Aine’s political struggles, I would have liked to learn more about them. After watching Nora thrive, I would have liked to see if she continued to grow stronger and assume a more prominent place in the village. Would Donal lose his stammer and would the predictions of her husband, when he came to her in a dream come true? How would Conor fare? Who is the other? There were unanswered questions, with no hope of resolution, which left me hanging and a little disappointed. Otherwise, it was a really good story for a change, something interesting to ponder and not view as disguised trash.