I met my husband in a shabby production of Hamlet whose worn set pieces and mixed bag of actors could have been drawn directly from the provincial Irish theaters in Actress. In fact, everything Enright describes in Actress rings true: the alcohol-fueled parties filled with recitals, calculated and impromptu; the financial necessity, even for successful actors, of always working; the soul-crushing conformity of the Hollywood studio system; the cruel winnowing of work and respect for middle-aged actresses; the irritating, performative nature of actors, and the difficulty of living with someone who simultaneously thinks the world of herself, yet needs constant reassurance. Enright nails it all, weaving her story of the great actress Katherine O’Dell into the equally fascinating history of the Troubles. Stuck in the middle — and telling the tale— is O’Dell’s devoted daughter, Norah, who comes of age in an Ireland made both vibrant and terrifying by the violence on the national stage and the domestic theater of her mother’s increasingly erratic behavior. Captivating, wry, and so intimate that it feels like biography, Actress is a beautifully wrought novel by a master stylist. Recommended By Rhianna W., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
Katherine O'Dell is an Irish theater legend. As her daughter, Norah, retraces her mother's celebrated career and bohemian life, she delves into long-kept secrets, both her mother's and her own. Katherine began her career on Ireland's bus-and-truck circuit before making it to London's West End, Broadway, and finally Hollywood. Every moment of her life is a performance, with young Norah standing in the wings. But the mother-daughter romance cannot survive Katherine's past or the world's damage. With age, alcohol, and dimming stardom, Katherine's grip on reality grows fitful. Fueled by a proud and long-simmering rage, she commits a bizarre crime.
As Norah's role gradually changes to Katherine's protector, caregiver, and finally legacy-keeper, she revisits her mother's life of fiercely kept secrets; and Norah reveals in turn the secrets of her own sexual and emotional coming-of-age story. Her narrative is shaped by three braided searches — for her father's identity; for her mother's motive in donning a Chanel suit one morning and shooting a TV producer in the foot; and her own search for a husband, family, and work she loves.
Bringing to life two generations of women with difficult sexual histories, both assaulted and silenced, both finding — or failing to find — their powers of recovery, Actress touches a raw and timely nerve. With virtuosic storytelling and in prose at turns lyrical and knife-sharp, Enright takes readers to the heart of the maddening yet tender love that binds a mother and daughter.
"Fame, sexuality, and the Irish influence suffuse the story, which ranges from glamour to tragedy, a portrait of "anguish, madness, and sorrow" haunted by a late, explanatory glimpse of horror which nevertheless concludes in a place of profound love and peace. Another triumph for Enright: a confluence of lyrical prose, immediacy, warmth, and emotional insight." Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Anne Enright is author of five novels, most recently Actress. The Gathering won the Man Booker Prize and The Forgotten Waltz won the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. In 2015 she was named the inaugural Laureate for Irish Fiction. She lives in Dublin.
Anne Enright on PowellsBooks.Blog
is a fictional memoir of a famous mother as remembered by her daughter, an Irish writer called Norah FitzMaurice. Her mother, Katherine O’Dell, was a stage actress who moved from the town halls and tiny stages of rural Ireland to London, Broadway, and, briefly, Hollywood, before returning to Europe, Ireland, and a slow decline...