Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Book Review: Norah by Cynthia G. Neale


Once she was a child of hunger, but now Norah McCabe is a woman with courage, passion, and reckless dreams. Her story is one of survival, intrigue, and love. This Irish immigrant woman cannot be narrowly defined! She dons Paris fashion and opens a used-clothing store, is attacked by a vicious police commissioner, joins a movement to free Ireland, and attends a National Women's Rights Convention. And love comes to her slowly one night on a dark street, ensnared by the great Mr. Murray, essayist and gang leader extraordinaire. Norah is the story of a woman who confronts prejudice, violence, and greed in a city that mystifies and helps to mold her into becoming an Irish-American woman.

Fireship Press | February 1st, 2014 | 296 pages

My Review

Cynthia G. Neale's latest novel, Norah, is set in the heart of mid-19th century New York City.  At the core of the story is young Norah McCabe, an Irish immigrant who survived the potato famine and is now striving to find her place in her adopted city.  Determined not to share the same fate of living in poverty that so many of her fellow Irish countrymen find themselves in, Norah opens up a used-clothing store to support herself and help her family.  While Norah enjoys her work, she still yearns for more.  When newspaperman Jack Harrigan offers her a position at his paper, the Irish American, Norah eagerly accepts.  Even though her new job isn't all she'd hoped it would be, her friendship with Harrigan results in her crossing paths with some of New York's most influential Irishmen, including Mr. Murray.  Norah finds love with Murray, but through him she also gets caught up in the sometimes dangerous movement to free Ireland from British rule. 

Norah is a feisty, headstrong and very determined young woman.  While I initially found little to like about her, Norah grew on me as the novel progressed, especially in the instances where she had to draw on her inner strength to overcome and move on from difficult situations.  I also enjoyed her interactions with her parents, especially her father whom she adored.  Even though Norah is ostensibly the star of this novel, it is the book's setting that proves to be the most compelling aspect of the narrative.  Through Norah, the reader comes to learn of the hardships and prejudice faced by Irish immigrants to NYC, of the rampant corruption in politics and on the police force, of the Irish gangs that roamed the notorious Five Points neighbourhood in which Norah and her family lived, and of the people and places that made up Norah's world.  I've read very little set in 19th century New York City, but Norah has inspired me to look into more fiction set in this time and place.   

At less than 300 pages, Norah is a fairly quick read. While the novel is short, there is a lot packed into the narrative.  At times, however, I felt some aspects of the story deserved more attention.  This is most pronounced when it comes to Norah's relationship with Murray, the early stages of which are not detailed at all.  While the story includes Norah's introduction to Murray, the next time he appears Norah has been seeing him for what seems to be several months.  Some insight into what drew Norah to Murray and to the Free Ireland movement he was so passionate about would have helped me understand the foundations of their relationship.  

Overall, Norah is an intriguing novel.  While Norah is not always easy to like, she is always entertaining.   I would not hesitate to recommend this book to readers interested in historical fiction set in the 19th century. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Source: I received a copy of this novel as part of a Fireship Press' virtual tour in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

Norah is currently on tour.  Click here to check out the tour schedule. 

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