Actress by Anne Enright (2020)
So all right. Here she is, Katherine O’Dell making her breakfast, requiring her breakfast from the fridge and the cupboards, some of which delight her and some which let her down. The sun is coming through the window, the smoke from her cigarette rises and twists in an elegant, double strand. What can I say? When she ate toast and marmalade she was like anyone else eating toast and marmalade, though the line between lip and skin, whatever that is called, is very precise, even when you are not seeing it on a cinema screen, twelve feet long.
Enright is a writer’s writer. When you read her easy prose that is cut so precisely against the way she sees and feels the world, you want to write and write and write.
Her landscapes are often domestic, where the performance of motherhood niggles away at the narrative. Here are troubled maternal figures who seem unaware of the destruction they cause to those around them – whether it is Veronica Hegaty in The Gathering (2007) or Rosaleen Madigan in The Green Road (2015) or Kathleen O’Dell in Actress. Mothering is a problem, a flea in the ear of family, a conundrum. Moreover, it emerges out of an Irish context.
Let’s consider this momentarily. Ireland has fetishised ‘mother’ as far back as the legends of Kathleen, daughter of Houlahan. She is a mythical figure to whom the sons of Erin sacrifice their lives in their bid to ensure her independence; hence she is an emblem for Irish Nationalism. It is interesting to note that throughout Irish literature Kathleen is often conflated with not only Mother Ireland but also Mary the Mother of Christ.
Enright’s mothers come out of this same soil. Women who are larger than life but smaller than any expectation – demanding sacrifice from their children.
This interests me, profoundly. I am drawn to the construction of the maternal not as something iconic but iconoclastic, not as something sacred but as profane and not as something idealised but real. Even if it troubles me, deeply. So while Actress takes us into the world of 20th century Irish theatre, Broadway and Hollywood it keeps its focus entirely on society’s preoccupation with motherhood not as a state ordained but rather as a state endured by others.
Finally, I have to say that I can’t put down an Enright novel. On every single page there is a turn of phrase or visual image or manner of speech that makes me bite hard on my lower lip and pause. Goddamnit she is a great writer. And just when you think you’re comfortable in this Enright world you remember her article in the London Review of Books entitled, ‘Disliking the McCanns’ (2007). Now what are you going to do with that?
Elizabeth’s first book, The Alchemy of Poetry, is available now! It would make the perfect gift for someone who is interested in the world of art and poetry and history and politics and love and death and war and the sublime – because the 160 poems selected in The Alchemy of Poetry succinctly and pitch perfectly offer all this and so much more!
Get your copy and send Elizabeth your review!
The Alchemy of Poetry by Elizabeth Guy
Published by Dreaming Big Publications
Paperback; 470 pages; ISBN-13 : 978-1947381414
Genre: Ancient, Classical and Contemporary Poetry; Education and Teaching; Non fiction