Friday, September 15, 2023

The Wren, the Wren

The Wren, the Wren by Anne Enright
9/19/23; 288 pages
W.W. Norton & Company

The Wren, the Wren by Anne Enright is very highly recommended literary fiction following the legacy of trauma in an Irish family.

Celebrated Irish poet Phil McDaragh is the grandfather of Nell, father of Carmel, and was the husband of Terry. Each of them experiences the legacy of his poems differently. Nell was raised by her single mother, Carmel. She is a recent university graduate who never knew her grandfather, but his love poems speak to her. She's involved in a toxic relationship that she struggles to leave. Carmel is a hard, practical realist who knows the spells her father's poetry can spin, but also knows he abandoned his wife who had breast cancer and left his two daughters to care for her as he went off to charm women and had affairs. She is fiercely the mother to Nell while viewing her father realistically. She has heard how he charmed Terry and witnessed his later actions.

The novel is filled with lyrical poems featuring birds, but also very real episodes of cruelty and violence. There is a strong juxtaposition of the expressive beauty of the poetry with the realistic violence and betrayal. The narrative switches between the point-of-view of Nell, Carmel, and Phil. The complicated feeling Carmel feels for her father while also knowing the worse of his behavior illustrates the sharp contrasts between his poetry and  behavior. Nell's entanglements also seem to mimic this same disparity.

Both Nell and Carmel are portrayed as realistic, fully realized characters, with flaws, struggles, and strengths. You will hope for the best for both of them and their relationship as daughter and mother while they deal with their issues and the complications from their family name.

What sets this literary family drama apart from other novels is the impeccable writing that soulfully captures the yearning, betrayal, and longing of the characters as they must each journey to their own conclusions. They have inherited the ties to Phil's poetic accomplishes, but must determine what inheritance this will mean for their lives. That Enright successfully tackles this quandary in the narrative and accomplishes this, seemingly with ease, is part of what made this an exceptional novel.

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

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