Posts Tagged ‘Anne Enright’

‘Actress’ by Anne Enright – Katherine O’Dell, The Star

 

‘Actress’ by Anne Enright   (2020) – 264 pages

At its beginning, it would be easy to mistake ‘Actress’ for Anne Enright’s actual memoir about her own mother; it has that veracity. The novel takes the form of a first-person memoir of the actress Katherine O’Dell by her daughter Norah. Katherine O’Dell is not the actress mother’s real name; she’s not even Irish, but English instead. Coming from a family of stage actors, young Katherine gains fame and fans on the stage and is swept off to Hollywood.

It happened instantly. Perhaps there is no other way. A star is born, not made, because stars are not actors – some of them, indeed, are very bad actors, at least that is what my mother used to say. Whatever a star has, they had it all along, and, at nineteen, Katherine O’Dell had it in spades. Offstage, you could hardly see her, onstage, you could not look away.”

Who is daughter Norah’s father? It is probably not the gay actor to whom Katherine O’Dell was married off to in a Hollywood-arranged ceremony when she was just 21. For a homosexual man, getting married was definitely the best cover there was at that time.

Of course Katherine had other lovers, but it is difficult for her daughter to figure out who they might be.

Later in her acting career Katherine faces the plight of many middle age actresses.

In 1975, Katherine O’Dell finally gave in. At the age of forty-seven, she moved from her unconvincing twenties to her mid-sixties – there was nothing for her to play in between.”

The novel ‘Actress’ is not entirely successful. Some of the problems result from the format as a daughter’s memoir. Most of the scenes of Katherine O’Dell as a young actress occurred before her daughter Norah was born, so Norah recalls them from a remote distance rather than up close, vivid, and personal.

Much of the second half of the novel is concerned with Norah herself, her love life, the Irish troubles of the 1970s, her marriage, etc. In fact Norah addresses some of her discourse to her husband which is a strange thing to do in a memoir of her mother. I found these asides by Norah to her husband to be clumsy, distracting and diverting from the remembrance of her mother. The story of her mother is sidelined to some extent.

Ultimately my assessment of a novel is usually based on the level of enthusiasm I have when I return to it after having put it down. ‘Actress’ kind of dragged for me in this regard especially in the second half.

 

Grade:   B-

 

 

‘The Green Road’ by Anne Enright – Grotesque But Energetic

‘The Green Road’ by Anne Enright   (2015)   –  310 pages    Grade: B+

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The world was beginning to seem just too bright and cheerful for me again.  It was time to read Anne Enright.

‘The Green Road’ is what I call a “cutting the heads off chickens” novel.  ‘The Green Road’ begins in rural western Ireland where even the little children know all too well that before the chicken is roasted and served for dinner, the live chicken must first be caught, its head chopped off, and its feathers plucked.  I was born on a farm in western Wisconsin and so I witnessed the beheading of chickens at an early age.  My father was too diffident and imprecise; he would not have been very good at this task.  However my mother was highly skilled at holding the live chicken’s head flat on the tree stump, lifting the axe and bringing it down exactly on the chicken’s neck, sort of like Wolf Hall.  After that the headless bloody chicken would go sort of wings flapping half flying off around the area in its last gasp of life.

Each of the early chapters of ‘The Green Road’ has a disturbing sickening scene which also just happens to be a part of life. In the first chapter it is that chicken beheading. In the second chapter we are in the East Village and Fire Island of  New York City during the early days of the AIDS crisis when many young men were coming down with the horrible disfiguring of Kaposi’s syndrome and were dying soon afterwards.  In the third chapter, we are with a large group of women being checked for breast cancer and awaiting the results.   The next chapter takes place in Africa.

“And the street was a medical textbook, suddenly.  People with bits missing.  The bulge of a tumor about to split the skin.  The village idiot was a paranoid schizophrenic.  A man with glaucous eyes was sweating out a fever in a beautiful carved chair, his head tipped back against the wall.” 

Other scenes that are more grotesque occur later in the novel.

‘The Green Road’ is a family reunion novel.  I think it is to Anne Enright’s credit that every one of the members of this family amounts to less than average because that is true of most families.  All the members of this Irish family gather at the old family home after many years apart.  Still Anne Enright can come up with ugly descriptions for even the most innocuous of scenes.

“It was awful.  The pain was awful.  Her mother juddering and sputtering, with the carrots falling from her mouth in little lumps and piles.”

A couple of weeks ago I berated ‘I Refuse’ by Per Petterson along with all Norwegian realistic novels for being cheerless and grim.  Despite all of the unpleasantness in ‘The Green Road’, I did not find it to be bleak or dismal at all.   Instead time and time again, she has a way of choosing the exact words to describe her characters for example in “Emmet would drive you mad for being good.”  Anne Enright seems to take great delight in these grotesque situations and brings a great amount of energy and enthusiasm to her art.

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