Nora and her best friend, Ella, leave small-town Minnesota to travel to New York City to train as nurses in 1889, where they meet a pair of young and handsome trainee doctors, and a famous artist who paints a telling portrait of the pair. Nora is clearly the stronger personality, the leader of the two, the one who is prepared to act to attain a goal, rather than waiting for someone else to act on her behalf. However, this impetuous independence has catastrophic consequences for both Nora and Ella. The Spirit of Nora follows Nora over a period of thirty years, from New York to Europe and Russia, and through the upheaval of World War I, the Spanish Flu epidemic and the Russian Revolution.
I realise that there are several aspects of The Spirit of Nora that will annoy some readers. It is written in the first person, present tense, which many readers find difficult and therefore avoid. It starts with a prologue and immediately goes back in time thirty years, which some readers find to be almost a ‘spoiler’. Some of the subject matter borders on ‘edgy’, and the heroine, Nora, is not a perfect Christian, and at least some of her actions show her in a negative light that most Christian novels avoid.
Yet the book is beautifully written, even more of an achievement considering the difficulty of writing in the present tense. The prologue (in my opinion at least) is a teaser not a spoiler, the potentially ‘edgy’ content was dealt with in a sparse and sensitive manner, and I found Nora to be quite a realistic character. Her main problems were a spirit of independence that was ahead of her time, and kind of thoughtless selfishness that I found quite realistic.
The Spirit of Nora has obviously been well researched, which impressed me, as did the beautiful use of language and the seamless way the author has managed to integrate major world events into his story (one phrase that I particularly liked was the description of New York as a city of ‘petty bureaucrats, faux aristocrats, and sleepless tomcats’). The one thing that perhaps I would have liked to have more of was a greater focus on Nora’s spiritual journey, not just her physical and emotional journey. There is a lot the author doesn’t say, which left me as a reader wondering exactly how far Nora fell from her early faith, which had been established early on (“I am committed to the path chosen… by God himself… I’ll allow nothing to derail it”), while later she felt ‘abandoned’ by her own religious beliefs even though she wants to “find a cause to believe in. I want to be swept up in something worthy of God’s blessings”. In that, I think we can all relate to Nora.
This is Lyle Scott Lee’s first book, and I enjoyed it. I would certainly be interested in seeing how he develops and improves in his craft. His writing is touching without being unnecessarily emotional, and I feel he has great potential.
Thanks to Lyle Scott Lee and Tate Publishing for providing a free ebook for review.