Colm Tóibín’s moving Brooklyn was the story of a young Irishwoman who emigrated to America; in his seventh novel, he tells what happened to Nora Webster (Scribner, $27), a woman who stayed. Twenty years after Eilis Lacey left Enniscorthy, Nora, who has spent her whole life there, becomes a widow. Though she has four children and a wide circle of relatives and acquaintances, she feels isolated in “the strangeness of home.” Worse, she feels she can’t escape her neighbors’ officiousness; Tóibín superbly evokes small-town life, where Nora senses that her plans are common knowledge even before she’s made them. Another, stronger refrain is “that she had no idea how to live.” Slowly, she finds her way, taking part in activities—a union, voice lessons—she hadn’t shared with her late husband and discovering unsuspected strengths that allow her to fight, and win, battles with Enniscorthy powers-that-be. Nora’s is an ordinary life, but in Tóibín’s vivid, compassionate narrative it unfolds with the dramatic power and emotional range of the art songs she revels in singing.
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