It's a story about the passage of grief in one's life. Nora was well aware of her own grief, but she didn't seem to see others' grief, or the effect her grief had on others, mainly her children and family. She appeared to have a bit of a prickly nature at times. But I don't think it was just this that made others stand-offish with her. It was because they were uncertain of her in her grief and her grief kept her separate from others. I could see this in the watchfulness of her sons and the conversation about her between her sisters.
I found the scene about her mother interesting because this is a different type of grief than what she is experiencing for Maurice. In grieving for her mother she became the dutiful daughter for her mother that she may not have been when she was alive. But her grief for Maurice was more visceral and while Nora could acknowledge it, she didn't seem to be able to express it in the simple way she expressed her grief on her mother's death. And I was surprised that it had been three years since Maurice's death but it reinforced for me how personally and uniquely grief is experienced.
While Nora was able to do all the physical things consistent with getting on with life (getting a job, changing her hairstyle, taking up singing again, selling the holiday home, renovating the house) she hadn't yet opened her heart to her grief and to other's grief. Perhaps her injury was a way of making her still so that she would do this; her immobility meant she could no longer fight it and she had to let go. Maurice's ghost appearing to her was when she let go. He was a creation of her emotion and imagination and the question she asked could only be answered by her engaging emotionally with life and those living around her.
Without her realising it or planning it, everything she did was the bridge allowing this to happen, including music. This all laid the groundwork. Music allowed her to acknowledge that bond and commonality with her mother, a step in the path. And that is what life is like, every decision builds on the next and sometimes you don't see the tapestry until you are right at the end. But with Toibin, he was able give us a glimpse of part of Nora's tapestry and see a pattern.
For me the story had the ring of truth about it in that it appeared to be an everyday story where nothing extraordinary happened (except the death of her husband of course). I was a bit worried that all the stories weren't going to come together e.g. Rosie, Una, Catherine etc wanting to look after Nora but her resisting; Aine, Fiona, Donal and Conor wanting to get on with life again but being pulled back by their mother's grief. But it did come together in the last few chapters in a very touching, ordinary and mundane way, which is exactly how it happens in all our lives, not by some earth-shattering extraordinary event.
I found myself wishing I was Irish. I think certain aspects of the story, many of the cultural references and the sense of place would have been very strong for those familiar with the location.
All up a good read, but if you like plot driven stories choose something else.