This story begins in 1904, when Nora Barnacle is a cleaner at the Finn's hotel in Dublin. She meets Jim Joyce, an aspiring writer. Jim asks Nora to leave Dublin with him, but he is not willing to marry. Nora wants to marry and figures she can convince him if they go to Zurich together. James is a wanderer and Nora follows him.
James has a teaching job and writes when he can. When jobs don't work out, they move. Nora is supportive of Jim. She likes the way he speaks, his language, his voice and she supports him in his writing. She is surprised that Jim is interested in her since she is an uneducated woman, but they can't seem to be apart from each other even when they are both attracted to others.
Nora advocates for herself with an independence that is surprising for the time period. She talks positively about her own sexual pleasure, about their need for money to take care of the home and eventually their two children. She is incredibly patient when it comes to Jim's drinking and staying out all night. Nora seems to understand Jim in a way that no one else could. As Jim becomes more successful with his writing, money is less of a concern, but Nora is honest about the family dynamics especially the tension between her and her daughter Lucia. Lucia's mental health and the effects on the family is a large part of the end of the book.
The book is written in brief chapters and told chronologically. The story begins with a sex scene and there are several other explicit scenes throughout the story. I believe these come from the famous love letters Nora and James sent each other that were published at one time, but are no longer in print.
This novel brings Nora and James' story to life. I think this will be one of the best historical fiction novels of 2021.
Thank you to NetGalley and Harper Audio for the audio copy for an honest review. Jenn McGuirk is the narrator and she does it to perfection. Love the Irish accent!
Bookworm Rating: 🐛🐛🐛🐛🐛