Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Review: Nora Webster by Colm Toibin

Nora Webster by Colm Toibin: Nora Webster, recently widowed, lives in Wexford, Ireland in 1969 with her two young sons, Donal and Conor. She also has two older daughters who now live away from home. As the story opens, Nora is enveloped in her grief over the recent loss of her husband, Maurice, to a long illness and is facing the practical challenges of being a widow. She worries about needing to sell a seaside property that has special meaning for her children and at which she has wonderful memories with her late husband but she cannot afford to keep the small cottage now that she must support her family alone. She faces the pitying looks of her neighbors and the constant flow of people stopping by to check on her. She worries about her young sons and how they are adjusting to this loss but mostly she is blinded to the effects by her own grief. As Nora moves through her grief, she gradually discovers herself.

 Nora is in a fog following the death of her husband Maurice. She is haunted by his last days which were spent in pain and in a hospital where she felt he got little support from his doctor. Everyone has an opinion on how Nora should move forward - from her sisters, to Maurice's brother and his wife to her Aunt Josie. Nora finds all their opinions intrusive and no help in determining her path but she is unable to state her point of view. In an effort to keep her emotions in control, she is almost shut down and appears passive. Amid this passivity, however, there are glimmers of her will. At her sister's home for the weekend, Nora takes to the formal front room and reads for an afternoon alone much to the bewilderment of her sister who hurried around the home preparing meals and heading into town to shop. While on vacation at the seaside with her Aunt Josie, Nora strikes out and finds another place to sleep in order to escape her older aunt's snoring. A big part of Nora's movement beyond her grief was getting a job. She returns to an office job at Gibney's where she worked before her children were born. She is initially cowed by the powerful Gibney family and a controlling office manager but slowly but surely she asserts herself and develops a confidence in her skills. Piece by piece, Nora emerges from her grief and returns not to the woman she was before her husband's death but becomes a new woman who knows her mind and isn't afraid to follow it.

My Thoughts
Typical of Toibin's style, this novel is quiet and unassuming. Despite Nora's grief being so central to the story, there is no melodrama and a notable lack of emotion on Nora's part. She suffers quietly and only with fleeting connections to her own emotions and certainly to those of her sons. At times, the distance from her young sons is hard to understand especially given that they are obviously so affected by their father's death and its effect on the family. You do see, however, the fierceness of her love for her sons as she musters up the courage to defend Conor to the Christian Brothers at his school who think he should be demoted a grade. There is a passion there but it is buried beneath her grief and some expectation that she not express her emotions or overtly display her affection for her children.

Nora is an ordinary woman; it is Toibin's skill as an author which brings her to life as she proceeds through mundane activities. He artfully offers glimpses into the woman that Nora is becoming and peeks into her internal dialogue. I was quite impressed by this book and reassured by Nora's ability to emerge from her grief. This is not, however, my favorite book by the author.  The Blackwater Lightship still holds that position but I highly recommend Nora Webster.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Sunday Salon: January 18, 2015

The Sunday Salon.com

The Scene: 8:33 am  - sitting on couch, coffee in hand (as usual on a Sunday!) I have been up for a few hours because I am still dealing with some jet lag since returning from my trip. I love being a morning person for a precious few days after getting back from a trip!  If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen some pics from my trip.  If not, I included a few below:

View from Table Mountain, Cape Town

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Elephants - Chobe National Park, Botswana

 Reading: Fortunately, between the trip and these early mornings, I have been getting a lot of reading done. This morning I finished Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight - it is an excellent mystery/thriller and I think will strike fear in most parent's hearts.  I don't even have kids and was haunted by the secret lives that many kids face while at school. Earlier this week, I finished Nora Webster by Colm Toibin. He is a favorite author of mine and  while I enjoyed his latest book, I am not sure I think it is his best.

Listening: Currently I am listening to Not My Father's Son by Alan Cumming. The author narrates the book himself and I love listening to his Scottish accent.  But it is painful to hear him recount the (mostly emotional) abuse he faced at the hands of his father.

 Blogging: Yesterday I posted my review of  The Way Life Should Be by Christina Baker Kline. I really enjoyed this book and will definitely be reading others by the author. I am hoping to use my short-lived spurt as a morning person to get ahead on blogging this weekend and catching up on reviews.

Watching : While away, I missed the start of Season 5 of Downton Abbey.   I can't wait to catch up on the first 2 episodes - today's project will be figuring out how to stream from my laptop to the TV so I can watch episode 1 and 2 before episode 3 airs tonight.

While I was in the UK for a meeting last week, I heard about a series there that I think I will like - Broadchurch.  Season 2 just started airing in the UK but Season 1 is available here on Netflix.  I forsee a binge-watching session in my future! Have you seen or heard about Broadchurch?

Looking Forward To: Getting back into a routine - vacation was wonderful but now the routine of going to the gym and eating regular meals at home seems welcome!

Hope everyone has a relaxing Sunday!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Weekend Cooking - Review: The Way Life Should Be by Christina Baker Kline

The Way Life Should Be by Christina Baker Kline: Angela Russo is in her thirties and living in New York City; her life, however, has stagnated. She is alone and working at a job as an events planner which doesn't excite her. After getting fired following a spectacular disaster at a high profile event, Angela decides to head to Maine to nurse her wounds and move her life in a different direction. She is not just escaping NY - she had recently started communicating with an guy that lives in Maine through an online dating site. With potential love on the horizon with her "MaineCatch", Angela heads to Maine to start over.

 Growing up, Angela learned to cook at the side of her beloved Italian grandmother, Nonna. Her grandmother and the rituals in the kitchen provided a steadying force as Angela dealt with the ending of her parent's marriage and the adjustment to her Dad's new wife. Once she arrives in Maine and things are not turning out as she planned, food and the rituals that surround it once again provide comfort for Angela. Before long, Angela is working at a cafe and baking fresh muffins and cakes to replace the stale bagels being served with the strong coffee. Food is the vehicle she uses to connect to people and to draw them in. As Angela faces the isolation of Maine in winter, she once again turns to food and cooking. She starts offering cooking lessons in her small cottage and collects a group from her community once per week to learn how to cook a dish inspired by Nonna and to connect with each other and begin to reveal a little about themselves.

My Thoughts
This is my first novel by this author but it certainly won't be my last.  I tore through this book and didn't want to leave the characters at the end (I think the book lends itself well to a sequel - wonder if there will be one?) The story of self-discovery is very relatable and you want to see Angela succeed in the new life she has set out to create. Finally, the cooking scenes convey a real love of the art of cooking and it's power to heal and connect - they had me considering settling in for an afternoon of cooking on a cold winter's day.  The book even includes recipes from the novel including Maine Blueberry Muffins, Torta Al Limone and Stracciatella alla Romana, The comfort of a good novel and good food all in one!

Have you read other books by this author?  Which do you recommend I read next?

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.