Friday, 15 January 2016

Review: 'The Astonishing Return of Norah Wells' by Virginia MacGregor

MacGregor's first book, What Milo Saw, was a hit for me, showing how close MacGregor can get to her characters' inner worlds and to the heart of families as well. Family is also at the heart of The Astonishing Return of Norah Wells but this novel also allows MacGregor to spread her prosaic wings a little bit more. Thanks to Netgalley, Sphere and Little, Brown for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 14/01/2016
Publisher: Sphere; Little, Brown
One ordinary morning, Norah walked out of her house on Willoughby Street and never looked back. Six years later, she returns to the home she walked away from only to find another woman in her place. Fay held Norah's family together after she disappeared, she shares a bed with Norah's husband and Norah's youngest daughter calls Fay 'Mummy'.
Now that Norah has returned, everyone has questions. Where has she been? Why did she leave? And why is she back? As each member of the family tries to find the answers they each need, they must also face up to the most pressing question of all - what happens to The Mother Who Stayed when The Mother Who Left comes back? 
From the author of What Milo Saw, comes this powerful, emotional and perceptive novel about what it takes to hold a family together and what you're willing to sacrifice for the ones you love.
The Astonishing Return of Norah Wells is, above all, an incredibly touching family story. MacGregor makes the Wells family come to life for the reader through her incredibly eye for little, seemingly irrelevant details that everyone will immediately recognize from their own family life, whether it's how quickly a kitchen becomes cluttered or how obstinate teenage girls are. MacGregor gets right to heart of what makes a family tick and what can throw it off balance. She explored the fragility of families in What Milo Saw as well but pushes it further in Norah Wells by allowing the reader to witness an active breakdown. Too often in novels about family-life the parents are Parents with a capital P who have no depth or background themselves, or the children are Children who run around causing havoc without, seemingly, any kind of awareness of the family. But families are incredibly complex things, where each person is tied to every other family member by invisible strings that can get twisted. The balance between love and dependency, the past and the present, the future and the unknown, all of these can shift and tear holes in the fabric of families. Norah Wells sketches a beautiful and touching portrait of how a family can both break and heal itself, repeatedly. 

MacGregor tells her tale through a variety of different characters. There is no one character that dominates but rather it is each character's right to tell of their own feelings and worries. Whether it's the mothers' worries about what will happen now, the father's worry that he will mess everything up or the children's different responses to the craziness that surrounds them, each narrative adds a distinct layer of interpretation to the story which gives its emotional depth. Whatever age you read this add, there will be a character that you can identify with. Just as in What Milo Saw, MacGregor's characters are varied. They are old and young, headstrong and acceptant, English and not. As such, Willoughby Street becomes a "normal" street. The characters seem taken from real life, with quirks that seem ridiculous and yet are recognizable. One of my favourite characters has to be Willa, the youngest daughter, whose narrative touches upon the Magical Realist quite frequently and who brings a vibrancy to the story without which the novel would be a lot less fun.

MacGregor's writing reads so easily that it belies its efficacy. The dialogue feel taken from life, rather than fabricated and there will be plenty of moments where the reader wonders whether these moments were taken from their own lives. The plot of the novel is, at its most basic level, simple but MacGregor knows nothing is simple when it comes to family. Throughout her writing remains close to the heart, not reaching for overly dramatic tension but letting her characters' actions and feelings speak for her. There is also no overt judgement from MacGregor for any of her characters, allowing the reader to try and come to their own conclusions about the situation and walk away from the novel with a new appreciation for the complexity of love, in whatever shape or form. There are a number of twists and turns in the narrative which will either have you reaching for tissues or for your pearls, but the novel never turns farcical.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

The Return of Norah Wells is an incredibly sensitive portrayal of the complexities of family life, of love and of the complexity of forgiveness. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and whizzed through it, incapable of putting it down for too long. Virginia MacGregor is quickly on her way towards becoming one of my favourite contemporary authors. I'd recommend this to fans of family dramas and Magical Realism. 

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like an intriguing story! It's great to know how well written and nuanced it is. Thank you for this in depth review!