The Astonishing Return of Norah Wells
by Virginia Macgregor
Publishing Date: 14th January 2016
Source: Copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Number of pages: 480
Genre: Literature/Fiction (Adult)
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.
Last year I read and loved Virginia Macgregor’s debut novel „What Milo Saw” – this book was so incredibly touching and I couldn’t forget it for a long time. So impatiently and with bated breath I was waiting for my review copy of her second book, „The Astonishing Return of Norah Wells”, to finally land on my doorstep – and eventually this day came, and this beautiful, eye – catching hardcover copy reached me and my greedy mittens.
The first thing that I noticed when started „The Astonishing Return on Norah Wells” was the fact that it was so similarly built to „What Milo Saw” – the chapters were told from the main characters’ points of view, in turns, so that we got a brilliant chance to get to know their thoughts and insight into their souls. Also, the writing style, the storytelling stayed the same and you can without hesitation recognize that the author must be Virginia Macgregor – which, as it’s only her second book, I think is a fantastic thing. I love Virginia’s writing style, started to love it already when reading Milo. It’s very unique, warm and the author has a great talent to describe feelings and emotions – she can easily make you cry and in the next second smile. And there were many parts in this book that had me in tears – especially after the incident with Louis. The use of present time when telling the characters’ stories made the whole return even more realistic and the story to flow, and I don’t know, somehow it just gave me a real sense of this whole situation, the tension.
I loved how complex and not too obvious did the author make the plot, and that she allowed it to slowly untangle, all the time adding small details that were helping me to change my mind. Nevertheless, I didn’t change my opinion about one thing: about Norah thinking that she could came back home – just like that. No matter what brought her back, she had left home, her family, and disappeared, and then she came back, expecting everything to be the same, to come back where she had left. She gave the impression that she’s really surprised with the fact that her family moved on and led their lives without her. Sure, I get why she left in the first place, and the lesson she wanted to teach her husband but then she was away for 8 years. Eight years. And after coming back expected to start as if nothing happened.
The most poignant parts in the books were the chapters told from Ella and Willa’s points of view. It is amazing to what degree Virginia Macgregor was able to get into their minds and to describe their most hidden fears and feelings, and this all so wonderfully adequate to their ages. And Louis. You know me, you already know I can’t watch Disney films as I cry all the time seeing Bambi loosing his mum or Simba his dad, and it’s the same with books, no matter what happens, no matter if it’s good or bad, if there is a dog, it is programmed in advance that I’m going to cry my eyes out. I loved Louis, please move over all other dogs, he made my eyes well and my heart beat faster, and I think I am never going to forgive Virginia!
The characters were truly complex and all of them had their own personalities. I am not sure if it was intended but I sided with Fay, the Mother Who Stayed, even though the passages told by Willa did make me well a little – but there was not a single moment, not even when Norah let out why she came back, that I felt sorry for her. No. I was sharing my feelings with Ella. Even Louis couldn’t change my mind.
I guess that probably the readers are going to fell for Willa, the young, innocent Willa and her perspective, but what tugged at my heartstrings was Ella and her point of view. She grew up believing in this what wasn’t true, and when she eventually came to know this truth, it just broken her. It just put her whole world upside down. Add to this her age, her being a troubled teenager, and you have a trouble in the making – which, in my opinion, is not a wonder. She felt deceived, confused and I just wanted to hug her and tell her that everything is going to be OK. Then we have Fay, who, in my eyes, has never done anything wrong. She kept her feeling under control, she’s never done anything against her friend Norah, and then, when she thought she can be happy ever after, Norah returned. I felt so outraged!
The plot itself is not as straight – forward as we could think at first. It is full of turns and twists, and dilemmas, problems that it’s not so easy to find a solution for. It wonderfully explores the family relationships but also exposes that weakest points in those relationships. It also brilliantly shows us the difference in the straight – forward thinking of a child and the much more complex way of adults’. It brilliantly captures the differences in each person’s way to deal with the astonishing and unexpected return of Norah.
I am not sure about the end of this novel. Firstly, it seemed much too rushed, after the whole drama and the book taking place over only few days it just was too quick for my liking. Secondly, as much as I like happy ends in the books, was this not too happy? I don’t know what I was expecting but I think something different, something more challenging. Also, I couldn’t help thinking that there were passages in the book that really dragged on too much, that they were used as a filler, and I was willing the story to move on.
This story may seem chaotic on the surface, but the timing there is perfect, and all the elements of the puzzle slowly find their own right places. The author can get into characters’ worlds and into their heads and then put their thoughts into words for us to read. „The Astonishing Return of Norah Wells” is a family story, and Virginia Macgregor truly knows what it is that makes a family, gets right through to the heart of it. It is a very perceptive novel about love, hope and forgiveness and I really enjoyed it.