As I am ever behind the times, this is a book I’ve wanted to read since it came out in 2016. Finally!
The Astonishing Return of Norah Wells written by Virginia MacGregor revolves around a family and the turmoil that is kicked up when the titular character, mother Norah, returns after six years of absence. Father Adam, fifteen-year-old Ella, six-year-old Willa and their dog Louis all live at number 77 Willoughby Street. As does the woman who has taken Norah’s place, Fay, who Willa calls Mummy. The story is told over a bank holiday weekend as we see the complicated and conflicted emotions stirred up by Norah’s return. The question which hangs over the book is what happens to The Mother Who Stayed when The Mother Who Left comes back?
I have to say immediately I loved this book. I’ve read Virginia MacGregor’s first book What Milo Saw and adored it so I couldn’t wait to get started on this one. It’s written in a very similar style and pace so if you liked What Milo Saw you won’t be disappointed.
Straight away, I give it credit for tackling a very difficult area. We’re very used to stories about father’s leaving and we’ve almost become numb to it. But reading about a mother who disappears, abandoning her family, was fascinating. I found I was (completely unjustly!) judging poor flighty Norah worse than I would have done if the father had left. Needless to say, throughout most of the book (and now, honestly) I’m very much team Fay, the mother who stayed. It was interesting to watch my own reactions.
Virginia MacGregor has an ability to create beautifully flawed characters and that’s probably why I enjoy her work so much. Ella, the stroppy teenager, was one of those characters I wanted to slap around the head, but at no point did I get bored of her. Your typical teenage! Willa stole my heart and I just adore her. Adam’s weak and ineffectual nature makes you want to chivvy him on, which makes it all the more satisfying as you watch him grown and finally take a little action as he comes to terms with his unresolved feelings for Norah and their abandonment. I felt I identified with Fay in many ways; the practical woman doing her best to pick up the pieces and look after everyone earned a great deal of my respect.
And Norah. Poor Norah. I started the book as angry with her as many of the other characters. But by the end of the story, I had at least forgiven and even started empathising with Norah.
And yet again, Virginia MacGregor’s secondary characters become some of my favourites – Ella’s boyfriend Sai, not to mention his mum Mrs Moore and the delightful Pegg sisters. Although the story revolves around the conflict within the household, these minor characters create such an impression in their small time, they’re hard to forget!
A bit of fair warning that no one gave me – this book is yet again a tear jerker. Would have been great to have known that before bursting into tears on the Hammersmith and City line into work… I think I’ll be reading her next book, Before I Was Yours, at home.