The Astonishing Return of Norah Wells by Virginia Macgregor

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The Astonishing Return of Norah Wells by Virginia Macgregor

Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: What happens to a family that's moved on from the departure of a wife and mother when she suddenly pops up again? Warm, poignant, funny and unexpected; just like life, really.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 480 Date: January 2016
Publisher: Sphere
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0751554205

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Fay, Adam, the girls teenager Ella and little 6 year old Willa seem a happy family. They are on the whole, it's just Ella who isn't. Fay, named by the ladies across the road 'The Mother that Stayed' moved in after Norah, 'The Mother that Left', went. Now she's taken Norah's place in the family's life and Adams' bed. Ella just wants her mother to come home and then, 6 years after she went, Norah does. How will she fit in and, just as importantly, why did she come back?

Virginia Macgregor last delighted us with What Milo Saw, a novel that takes a look at the world and the care of the elderly through a child's eyes. Not only was it an interesting way of looking at a topical subject, it ensured smiles as well as the tears. (Sobs in my case!) In …Norah Wells Virginia proves she can step into shoes belonging to any age group. The subject matter may differ in this case but the warmth and sadness is still there, bolstered by psychological insight that doubles as entertainment.

We follow each member of the family via first person narratives, drawing us into their lives from the beginning. Ella has dreamed of her mother's return and uses social media for both support and a method of hastening the day (causing some wonderful moments). She was a small child when her mother left and so her memories may not stand up to reality. You and I know that but Ella has to discover it for herself.

Little Willa was a baby whom Norah left in the care of her friend Fay for a little while. The little while stretched to 6 years and now Fay is mummy. Willa is happy, idolising her big sister and submerging herself in the world of The Fantastic Mr Fox unaware of the drama that's breaking around her when the woman she's been told is 'Auntie Norah' arrives.

Fay and Adam meanwhile are thrown into understandable fear and insecurity, not to mention anger. Fay, the ordered, dependable, surgeon is so very different from chocolate-for-breakfast, intuitive Norah. Fay is the one who's kept the family together when Adam was falling apart but is that all she's there for?

Through each of the family's stories and clever god-like overview vignettes Virginia ensures that we side with everyone, feeling their pain as well as their joy. The grenades thrown in by the author to change our perception create shockwaves but never take our increasing desire for everyone to be happy. The trick is that we don't find out till practically the end. (It can go either way so no spoilers!)

The mood of the story swings with the events. One moment we're with Willa having fun in the garden while we wait for the baby foxes to appear, the next we're treated to profound moments and lines. (Loneliness isn't about being without people, it's being with people who make you lonely made me nod in recognition.)

There may be very minor stretches of credibility, (e.g. would a family really wait for years before telling a child their favourite film is also a book?) but that's a slight niggle. The truth remains that Virginia bravely takes on heavy subjects covered with a deceptive lightness that still allows the hidden depths to be explored and, for the second book in a row, Virginia wins.

(Thanks to people at Sphere for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: If you've not read it yet, give yourself a treat in the form of What Milo Saw. If you're already a fan, then A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman is just as treatful.

Buy The Astonishing Return of Norah Wells by Virginia Macgregor at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Astonishing Return of Norah Wells by Virginia Macgregor at

Buy The Astonishing Return of Norah Wells by Virginia Macgregor at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Astonishing Return of Norah Wells by Virginia Macgregor at


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