Actress by Anne Enright
W.W. Norton & Company: 3/3/20
eBook review copy; 272 pages
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.
My review copy was courtesy of W.W. Norton & Company.