Wednesday, March 4, 2020


Actress by Anne Enright
W.W. Norton & Company: 3/3/20
eBook review copy; 272 pages
ISBN-13: 9781324005629

Actress by Anne Enright is a highly recommended treatise displaying the love of a daughter for her legendary mother.

Norah, the daughter of renowned Irish actress Katherine O’Dell, tells the story of her mother's life and, thus, her own life. As the novel turns to a biographical style, Norah begins to recount her mother's upbringing and career while she examines the secrets both women have held. Her mother was not Irish at all, as she was born in London, and the apostrophe in her name was originally a typo. Norah retraces the complexities of her mother's life and her own life. Readers know the end result: Katherine's slipping grip on reality and a well-publicized, sense-less criminal act when she shoots a producer in the foot.

Ever present and at the forefront is Norah's love and support for her mother, even as she reveals the secrets both women have held. Norah's chronicle of Katherine's life also highlights her own search for love and family. The end result is a revealed commonality of experiences between mother and daughter that almost all women can share, one of sexual violations and abuses. But the biggest well-kept secret is the identity of Nora's father. At the same time Norah is writing about her husband and how close but precarious their relationship seems at times.

The writing is beautifully done in a stream-of-consciousness style, which makes sense because this is Norah reminiscing. The reader is in her head and she is narrating the story of her mother and her life to a changing third person - the reader, or a writer who came around, or her husband. It accurately depicts a person's thought patterns when telling their story in their head; the recipient differs based on where you are at in the recollections.  The emotional impact is in the insights Norah shares and the observations she makes.

If you are looking for a linear plot to follow, disappointment will occur with Actress. The plot meanders and jumps around in time and subject matter due to the style in which Enright has chosen to write the novel. If you can embrace the idea of being inside a daughter's head as she tells the story, following along will be easier. Lives aren't usually a culmination of a huge event, but rather the many small events of varying consequence. We know almost from the start that Katherine's life will have a big event, and the journey is in finding out her backstory via her daughter's point-of-view. The result is a tender, honest, exquisite depiction of both a mother and daughter that is complex yet unfinished. 

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of W.W. Norton & Company.

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