A subtle, pitch-perfect sonata of a novel in which an Irish widow faces her empty life and, incrementally, fills the hole left by the recent death of her husband.
Tóibín's latest serves as a companion piece to his masterful Brooklyn (2009), which detailed a young Irish woman’s emigration in the 1950s. Set a decade later, this novel concerns a woman who stayed behind, the opportunities that went unexplored and the comforts that support her through tragedy. Left with two young sons (as well as daughters on the verge of adulthood) by the death of her husband, a beloved teacher, Nora exists in a “world filled with absences.” Not that she's been abandoned. To the contrary, people won't leave her alone, and their clichéd advice and condolences are the banes of her existence. And there’s simply no escape in a village where everybody knows everything about everybody else. What she craves are people who “could talk to her sensibly not about what she had lost or how sorry they were, but about the children, money, part-time work, how to live now.” Yet she had lived so much through her husband—even before his unexpected illness and death—that she hadn’t really connected with other people, including her young sons, who now need more from her than perhaps she has to give. Without any forced drama, Nora works her way back into the world, with new priorities and even pleasures. There's a spiritual undercurrent here, in the nun who watches over Nora, in the community that provides what she needs (even as she resists) and especially in the music that fills her soul. Explains a woman she would never have encountered, left to her own devices: “There is no better way to heal yourself than singing in a choir. That is why God made music.”
A novel of mourning, healing and awakening; its plainspoken eloquence never succumbs to the sentimentality its heroine would reject.