Book Review: The Astonishing Return of Norah Wells – Virginia Macgregor *****

UK Publishing Date: 14 Jan 2016. 480 pages.

One of my favourite books of last year was the beautiful and haunting “What Milo Saw” by Virginia Macgregor. When I realised that she had a second book out this year there was a certain amount of trepidation on my part because it couldn’t possibly match up to the brilliance of Milo. I had nothing to worry about on that score. “The Astonishing Return of Norah Wells” is already looking like it’s going to be one of my top books for 2016. I laughed out loud, I shed a tear (or fifty!) and above all there was such emptiness when I reached the end and said goodbye to 77 Willoughby Street.

Six years ago Norah dropped Ella off at the school gates and left baby Willa with her best friend Fay. She left a note for her husband Adam telling him that she loved him and not to try and find her and then Norah disappeared. In the years that have passed she has made no effort to try and contact them.

The story is narrated in the third person but each chapter is from the perspective of a different member of the family; The Mother Who Left, The Father, The Mother Who Stayed, Ella and little Willa. Macgregor just has this affinity for crafting real people and even for animals. Louis, the family dog, is every bit a character in this tale and he worms his way into your heart. It is written so beautifully that the family relationships and the ties that bind them together are almost palpable. The real strength of this author is the way that she writes about people and relationships, describing ordinary family situations that wriggle under her fingertips and burst into glorious technicolour in the pages of her story.

In the days running up to Willa’s seventh birthday a strange red headed woman is standing in Willoughby Street. Willa doesn’t recognise her and is told by Ella that she is No One. Teenage Ella has been searching for her mother since she left and is overjoyed at the sight of the slender woman in the street. Her wishes have been answered. She just has to talk to Dad and make sure that he accepts her home. Then Fay, the friend, godmother and only mother that Willa has known, can move aside and let Norah come home. Except that life really isn’t that simple.

In addition to being a wonderful study in relationships and family this is a book that asks us to think about our definitions of what it means to be a mother, to be a father. The mechanics of what or who makes the family tick are under scrutiny. It would make a great choice for a book group with lots of interesting discussions to be had on the nature of family.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Just go out and buy it. Buy it for everyone that you know!

Supplied by Net Galley and the Publisher in exchange for an honest review.

You can find the book here: The Astonishing Return of Norah Wells

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