Anne Enright

Anne Enright’s latest novel is Actress.

Diary: Priests in the Family

Anne Enright, 18 November 2021

When​ my grandfather died of a heart attack in 1927, he was the father of three young children and did not know that a fourth child, my mother, was on the way. This strangeness – the growth of a baby after the death of its parent – was both tragic and miraculous. It made my mother feel odd about her existence, I think, which is not the same as feeling odd about herself. She was...

Short Cuts: Beckett in a Field

Anne Enright, 23 September 2021

You have not​ experienced Irish theatre until you have seen a show that involves a ferry, rain, stone-walled fields and the keen, mild interest of the Aran Islanders, who have great good manners and no shortage of self-esteem. It can’t be easy being the object of a century of tourist curiosity, but these people have a steady gaze. The world comes to them and then it leaves. Somehow it...

In​ the fourth novel in Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead sequence, the eponymous Jack spends a long night alone with his thoughts. ‘After a while,’ he observes, ‘light will reveal itself in a very dark room, not quite as a mist, as something more particulate, as if the slightest breath had lifted the finest dust into the stillest air.’ This recalls Milton’s...

Diary: The Monsters of #MeToo

Anne Enright, 24 October 2019

Last year​, I spoke to a young female doctor who has on occasion been sexually assaulted or insulted by men under her care. What are they thinking? One answer is that they think she is a nurse and that they are, by long-standing comic tradition, entitled to molest nurses. Another is that they can’t bear to be so vulnerable: it is more important to them to make a woman uneasy than it...

The Genesis of Blame

Anne Enright, 8 March 2018

Impossible to keep lust out of Eden, even though it had not been invented yet. In it comes, like a snake into the garden, because the reader is one of the fallen, and cannot imagine what it is to love without transgression, or taboo. And this makes the story both clear and unimaginable, open and inaccessible.

Diary: Call Yourself George

Anne Enright, 21 September 2017

In 2015, the novelist Catherine Nichols sent the opening pages of the book she was working on to fifty literary agents. She got so little response she decided to shift gender and try as ‘George’ instead. The difference amazed her. ‘A third of the agents who saw his query wanted to see more, where my numbers never did shift from one in 25.’

Antigone in Galway

Anne Enright, 17 December 2015

In September, the Irish government held a state funeral for the exhumed remains of Thomas Kent, a rebel and a patriot who was executed in 1916 and buried in the yard of what is now Cork Prison, at the rear of Collins Barracks, once the Victoria Barracks. His coffin was first removed to the garrison church, where thousands of people filed past to pay their respects. The funeral echoed the reinterment of Roger Casement – thrown in a lime pit in Pentonville Prison in 1916 and repatriated in 1965 – when Eamon de Valera got out of his sickbed to attend and a million people lined the route.

When the queen came to Ireland in May 2011 a number of the great, good and merely deserving were locked in the 1937 reading room of Trinity College Dublin for two hours without their mobile phones, before being allowed into the beautiful Long Room of the Old Library to await her arrival. The ratio of men to women was about the same as you find at the front of the plane – five to one...

Diary: Censorship in Ireland

Anne Enright, 21 March 2013

In September 1954, my parents went to Edinburgh on their honeymoon. There is a picture of them taken in Princes Street Gardens, in front of the view of the Castle, my mother is wearing her white fun fur jacket, my father is wearing a big smile; they look full of their moment and altogether content. No one knows why they went to Edinburgh, they just wanted to, and after that they went to Lourdes. My mother prayed at the grotto where the Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette, and her prayers must have been answered, because two Enrights went out there, but three Enrights came back.

Diary: Lessons from Angela Carter

Anne Enright, 17 February 2011

I met Angela Carter in the spring of 1987 when I was a student and she a tutor on the MA in creative writing at the University of East Anglia. My work had over the course of the previous winter gone from bad to worse. I was 24, I had no idea how to live in the world, let alone write about it; and the self who was supposed to produce some kind of narrative by the end of the year seemed increasingly fugitive and fragmented. The whole business of being Irish in England seemed to me old-fashioned and, in tiny ways, ghastly. People thought I was amusing, in an Irish sort of way: and I suppose I was. My work was not going well. I did not know why. It was not that I was distressed – I had often written when in distress. In fact a little breaking open, a little falling apart, a tincture of four in the morning, used to work quite well for me.

Diary: Mrs Robinson Repents

Anne Enright, 28 January 2010

Being mad in Northern Ireland is different from being mad in any other place. The Robinsons come from a community in which people talk to God and He talks right back to them. ‘I have forgiven her,’ said Peter Robinson. ‘More important, I know that she has sought and received God’s forgiveness.’ These communications from God can be fairly abstract, they can be politically convenient, they seldom involve what the rest of the world call auditory hallucinations, but there is no doubt that the sense of conviction they carry can be overwhelming.

Sinking by Inches: Ireland’s Recession

Anne Enright, 7 January 2010

In the middle of 2007 a Romanian taxi driver told me he was going home to Bucharest because ‘the building site is dead.’ All his friends had already gone. He had a wife with a new baby (called Seán, as I remember), and this was why he would be the last to leave. I don’t know why nobody listened to this guy, or how we failed to understand what he was saying.

Diary: A Writer’s Life

Anne Enright, 28 May 2009

I am often jet-lagged, but how can I tell? I have a poor sense of time, as I have a poor sense of left and right, and this makes me a good traveller because, no matter where I am, I always look both ways before I cross the street.

Diary: Disliking the McCanns

Anne Enright, 4 October 2007

It is very difficult to kill a child by giving it sedatives, even if killing it is what you might want to do. I asked a doctor about this, one who is also a mother. It was a casual, not a professional conversation, but like every other parent in the Western world, she had thought the whole business through. She said that most of the sedatives used on children are over-the-counter antihistamines, like the travel sickness pills that knocked me and my daughter out on an overnight ferry to France recently. It would also be difficult, she told me, to give a lethal dose of prescription sleeping tablets, which these days are usually valium or valium derivatives, ‘unless the child ate the whole packet’. If the child did so, the short-term result would not be death but a coma. Nor could she think of any way such an overdose would lead to blood loss, unless the child vomited blood, which she thought highly unlikely. She said it was possible that doctors sedated their children more than people in other professions but that, even when she thought it might be a good idea (during a transatlantic flight, for example), she herself had never done so, being afraid that they would have a ‘paradoxical rage reaction’ – which is the medical term for waking up half out-of-it and tearing the plane apart.

Diary: Listen to Heloïse

Anne Enright, 10 May 2007

Last year, when she was five, my daughter announced that she was going to become a Muslim. ‘It’s an awful lot of washing,’ I said. ‘Don’t worry, I am able to reach the sink with my feet.’ She went up to her room and stuck six sheets of paper together to make a prayer mat. It was time, I decided, to send her to Catholic Instruction. This is an after-school class that, besides fulfilling her tribal spiritual needs, provides a solid half-hour of free childcare, every Monday. It is conducted by a catechetics expert in lace-up shoes who looks like she means business.

Diary: My Milk

Anne Enright, 5 October 2000

The milk surprises me. It does not disgust me as much as I thought it would, unless it is not fresh. It is disturbing that a piece of you should go off so quickly. I don’t think Freud ever discussed lactation, but the distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bodily products here is very fine. Women leak so much. Perhaps this is why we clean – which is to say...

What’s left of Henrietta Lacks? HeLa

Anne Enright, 13 April 2000

I don’t know where I heard of her first: a woman whose cells are bred in culture dishes in labs all over the world; a woman whose cells were so prolific that there is more of her now, in terms of bio-mass, then there ever was when she was alive.

Diary: bombings in Baghdad

Anne Enright, 10 June 1999

The night they bombed Baghdad – the first time – I was out at the TV station where I was working. I saw it in hospitality, on the big screen. The room was full of people drinking; people from the show, and also, because they were bombing Baghdad, other people from around the building. They just drifted in. There were no rules to hospitality, but on a normal night these people would not have come in for a beer at the end of the day. People from other programmes, the crew, the guys on cameras, the vision mixer, the guys who did sound on the studio floor. So we were all together. And on the screen for the first time was that green colour which was the colour of the news when they bombed Baghdad.

Diary: Looking at the Wallpaper

Anne Enright, 2 January 1997

Sitting in France writing about death and wallpaper, it is no surprise to find my walls orange: ‘that most morbid and irritating of colours’, as Huysmans described it, ‘with its acid glow and unnatural splendour’. The word ‘orange’ was a late addition to the language, before it we just had gold or ochre, and, like the colour, it throws up questions about the precious and the fake, the difference between what is natural and what is recent. Like the fruit, the walls are good in the morning and odd at night. Unlike the fruit the colour is strangely flat, very inedible: the blind colour of optimism, of airport furniture, of faith in the modern and the failure of that faith. Repeated, it is the colour of writer’s block. I look out the window and at the keyboard and try to avoid a Barton Fink. What is the difference between a pattern and a story, I wonder, as paragraphs repeat and strain for change, like the unsuccessful mutation zigzagging the walls; flowers held monstrous in stasis, trying to stop being flowers and start just being shapes – or is it the other way around? When it comes to writing, it is probably the other way around.’

Diary: Boys’ Aliens and Girls’ Aliens

Anne Enright, 21 September 1995

In Ireland we don’t need aliens; we already have a race of higher beings with strange powers who gaze deep into our eyes and force us to have babies against our will. We call them priests. A loopy Protestant, on the other hand, has to make it up as she goes along. And no one makes it up better than your American Protestant, driven mad by all that sky. I am talking about the alien-breeding programme affecting ‘up to two million’ carefully selected Americans. You have to be white to qualify.

Green Hearts

Anne Enright, 3 August 1995

I bumped into my brother in the street and we talked about Fintan O’Toole’s book on the beef tribunal. I told him to read it immediately. I myself had stopped both reading about the beef tribunal and eating beef in 1991, after a two-line thing in the Irish Times about cirrhotic calves’ livers being packed by someone, somewhere in Ireland. My brother is a civil servant. He did not reel, gag, or clutch his throat. He said: ‘Come on. You can’t get cirrhosis by eating it in beef.’



8 March 2018

Thanks to Eamon Duffy for pulling focus on seductus to point out that the pope’s sexualisation of error does not come from Jerome’s misogyny but crept in from elsewhere (Letters, 22 March). Catholic misogyny is indeed overdetermined; the barrel is now so full, there is a danger you will hit the wrong fish.I don’t know if Jerome was more holy than nasty – or if there is a connection...

Bury that bastard

Nicole Flattery, 5 March 2020

If Anne Enright’s stories took a physical form, I imagine they would be a well-dressed woman screaming into a silk pillowcase. Which is to say, I love them. 

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Small Hearts: Anne Enright

Terry Eagleton, 4 June 2015

Hegel​ believed that happiness was largely confined to the private life, a view that would scarcely survive a reading of the modern novel. A lot of fiction since the early 20th century takes it...

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What Family Does to You: Anne Enright

Eleanor Birne, 18 October 2007

The Gathering – Anne Enright’s fourth novel, and her best – is aware of its heritage, of the books that have gone before it. It makes use of familiar signals and motifs. It is...

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All Reputation: Eliza and Clara

Hermione Lee, 17 October 2002

Both these outstanding women novelists have decided, with deliberate and rewarding feminist intent, to resuscitate and make central the lives of women whose stories have been overshadowed by the...

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In Anne Enright’s collection The Portable Virgin (published in 1991) the first story is about Cathy, who works in the handbag department of a large Dublin store. Cathy classifies the...

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