Who killed Brooklyn?

Nora Webster

Süddeutsche Zeitung | Discussion from 09/05/2016From the swimming school of life
In “Nora Webster” Colm Tóibín tells of a single mother in Ireland
of the 1960s - and adds a new icon to the great women of literature
BY CHRISTOPHER SCHMIDT
Once, when he has been dead for three years, Maurice appears to her in a feverish dream. Nora sees her deceased husband sitting in the rocking chair by the window and asks him like an oracle about the children, about Fiona and Aine, Donal and Conor. She wants to know how they will fare in the future, and finally Maurice says that there is someone else, but without giving a name, which drives Nora crazy. She could easily have guessed who Maurice was referring to if she were not who she is, someone who never asks about himself, who has forgotten himself since the death of the “love of her life”, a spirit like him a haunted life locked in the past like Maurice's suits still up in the closet
hang, “and in the pockets of some of his jackets you could even get chalk out
of the school ”.
It is a long farewell that Colm Tóibín tells of in his new, great and frankly autobiographical family novel “Nora Webster”, and the fact that this farewell takes so much time is due to the fact that there is no time for it. Because Nora has to be there immediately, take care of herself and take responsibility when her husband Maurice, whose heart suddenly stops in the middle of life, leaves her with four children and a small widow's pension. She is 46 years old then. The necessity of having to look after the family alone and not knowing where to get the strength for it makes it so difficult to move Maurice's things out of the house, to thoroughly renovate the lower rooms,
To let color and light into the rooms and to share photos in the fireplace
burn, which she keeps in a wooden box, to which she has lost the key as well as to her life encapsulated in pain.
Nora dares to take a first step out of the realm of shadows when one day she spontaneously decides to have her hair dyed at the hairdresser's in town Color isn't too youthful for her. After all, she knows very well that her new, fashionable hairstyle is going to be the talk of the town. Like every change, no matter how small, causes talk in the town of Enniscorthy in the south of Ireland, where Colm Tóibín was born and raised in 1955.
With long ears, the small town listens to the inner workings of its people for every suspicious rattle, it watches its sheep with a thousand eyes, with sharp tongues it sabers every piece of news into a small scandal. Whoever lives here moves in a larger body, which is equipped with overly sharp organs of perception and long tentacles. Another resident of Enniscorthy had already learned how far the tentacles of the province reach when they take the form of kinship relationships and transatlantic telephone cables: Eilis Lacey, the young heroine in Colm Tóibín's novel “Brooklyn” from 2009 (Eng. 2010).
She experiences how little Enniscorthy overtakes her in big New York and how she remains a citizen of the old in the new world. You can bring an ocean between you and your home country, but you still cannot escape your Irish origins. Incidentally, the new novel tells how things went on with Eilis, her husband Tony and the other man she left in Ireland twenty years before the plot of "Nora Webster" began; conversely, Nora Webster was mentioned briefly in “Brooklyn”. The fact that it is now about the time between 1969 and 1972 is only indirectly communicated, through the mention of the moon landing, the riots in Derry and the fire at the British embassy in Dublin.
The flare-up Northern Ireland conflict forms the political background radiation of the novel. And the overriding importance of the social community, this second body, is highlighted by Colm Tóibín by allowing his novel to step over the banks of individual history and embed it in the unwritten chronicle of an entire region. Hardly coincidentally, the first part begins with a condolence visit from Eilis ’mother May, who is also widowed, six months after Maurice's death. The fact that May at the time, when her older daughter Rose died just as suddenly as Nora's husband, suffered no less from the never-ending expressions of condolences, which hampered the new beginning like a brake block, does not prevent her from making it just as difficult for Nora.
Everyone is tied into the networks of relatives and neighbors, for better or for worse. But the sympathy and active support that Nora streams from every side is not due to her own good reputation, but to that of her late husband, who was a popular teacher and respected citizen, a man who was politically active, who wrote newspaper articles in the evenings and brought a cooperative building society on the way. Nora, on the other hand, is considered impulsive and stubborn, a stubborn rebel and true fury, undeservedly gifted with a soul from her husband. Ultimately, however, it is precisely this quick-tempered temperament that will give her the strength to break away from the past.
Nora does not see her resumption of work as an accountant as a step towards independence, but as the end of the freedom she had found in marriage and motherhood. Not because she doesn't like to work, but because the work she does is far below her talents. Her family could not and would not finance her studies, for which she would have been excellently qualified. So their talented children are all the more successful. The only problem child is Donal, who has stuttered since his father's death and who is more and more often in his
Photo lab buried.
When he is about to be downgraded because of poor school performance, Nora threatens to be blocked. She wants to block access to the school with a banner and put a widow's curse on every teacher who passes by. And when her supervisor makes a derisive remark about Nora's husband, she attacks her with a pair of scissors and then storms headless from the office to go to the sea, determined never to set foot in the company again.
But the watchful eye of the community has already set a guardian angel on the march. On the beach, her sister Thomas suddenly meets her, a nun who has already been a reporter for the Irish freedom fighter Michael Collins. Now she's back on a secret mission to keep Nora from taking a wrong step.
Nora Webster is a strong woman and a mother lion who is anonymous herself
Don't shy away from threatening letters when it comes to protecting your children. When she learns that a 17-year-old was killed during a demonstration in which the British military shot blindly into the crowd, she says: “If I were the mother of one of those boys who were shot, I would get myself a gun. I have a gun in the house. ”But the verbally trigger-happy Nora is clenched in her pain and has to learn to loosen her claws. Three things help her: First of all, her keen intellect applies to what Colm Tóibín once wrote in an earlier story: "It was as if he had only visited his mother to be instructed in the use of reason." Then her rediscovered love for music. And finally the sea.
Like Eilis Lacey from “Brooklyn”, Nora is not only good at arithmetic, but also at swimming, which in both cases can be taken as an indication of the ability not to be fooled and never let yourself get down. "It was as if she lived underwater and had given up trying to fight her way back up into the air," it says at the beginning. But then she begins to practice backstroke swimming, lying flat and motionless on the water and trusting the buoyancy.
While the Northern Ireland conflict escalates in Belfast and Dublin, Nora Webster is fighting for her own personal self-empowerment. Little by little she finds out who else she is except the faithful wife of a man who is no longer alive and the proud mother of four well-off children. She has to find out so that she can be both in the fullest sense. That selflessness is worthless if you give yourself away from the start is also told in this grandiose novel. When Donal braved the move to boarding school against his mother's wishes and suffers from his first homesickness crisis, Nora resists the impulse to pick him up and never mention the name of the school again.
Instead, she promises him flank protection with regular letters, food parcels and visits to bridge the acclimatization phase. In this way, she saves her son from defeat, and by speaking of herself and her own needs for the first time, she helps him better than when she brings him back under
would have taken her wing. By proving autonomy, it also makes him autonomous. “New Ways to Kill Your Mother” is the name of a volume of essays by Colm Tóibín
the year 2012. "Nora Webster" is about a woman who kills the mother within
must, in order to become who it is, to someone who "suffered and left the suffering behind and then returned to it and let it linger and dwell in itself."
Donal once spoke a little swollen about the paradox of belief that something other than evidence is. “It's not like adding two and two, but rather like adding light to water.” Sister Thomas, actually an expert on such questions, puts it in a more mundane way: “Everything will be fine. It's a small town and she'll keep you safe. Now come back to her. And stop mourning, Nora. The time for that is over. "
Colm Tóibín has often written about overpowering mothers. Just think of his collection of short stories “Mothers and Sons” (2006, German 2009) or the monster mother, who is as tyrannical as she is incapable of living, from the novel “The Story of the Night” (1996, German 1999). Most recently he even wrote a book about the mother of all mothers. “Marias Testament” (2012, German 2014) tells of the mother of Jesus, who cannot forgive her son for denying her when he declares himself Son of God. Like this Maria, Nora is a woman as simple as she is astonishing, a sufferer whose story lays the swell of Tóibín's calm and powerfully rhythmic prose on the beach as gently as a message in a bottle.
The message contained in this message in a bottle is twofold, as Nora Webster's struggle for independence reflects the Irish struggle for independence. Anyone who wants to can see it as a national icon. Like her ancestors Anna Karenina, Effi Briest or Emma Bovary, Nora Webster already belongs in the gallery of immortal women in literature. Colm Tóibín rightly makes this claim by reserving the title of his book for her name alone, as if this book were a monument. “Nora Webster” is a great development novel about a woman in a country that has been underdeveloped and controlled by others for centuries, a quiet masterpiece.
She sabers with sharp tongues
Small town every news
rightly to a minor scandal
Sister Thomas was
Reporter for the
Freedom fighter Michael Collins
In Nora Webster's fight for
Independence is reflected in
Irish struggle for freedom
"Darling, it's just a dream. Everyone has bad dreams from time to time, ”says Nora Webster to her son. Colm Tóibín knows her inner world.
Photo: Matsas / Opale / Leemage / laif




Colm Tóibín: Nora Webster. Novel. Translated from the English by Giovanni and Ditte Bandini. Carl Hanser Verlag, Munich 2016. 384 pages, 26 euros. E-book 19.99 euros.
DIZdigital: All rights reserved - Süddeutsche Zeitung GmbH, Munich
Any publication and non-private use exclusively via www.sz-content.de
…more