Bringers of Ill Luck and Bad Weather

Penelope Fitzgerald

  • What Are You Like by Anne Enright
    Cape, 257 pp, £10.00, March 2000, ISBN 0 224 06063 5

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 customers by the bags she induces them to buy, bags which ‘take them one step beyond who they thought they might be.’. Cathy marries late, but only falls violently in love when a ‘loose, rangy woman’ comes into the store and fingers the most beautiful of imports, ‘an Argentinian calf-skin shoulder bag in tobacco brown’. The customer asks if the store has it in black. Since they don’t, she leaves without buying. Cathy says nothing, but having failed to persuade, her whole life is out of joint. She draws out her entire savings and goes on a shopping rampage, buying all the size 5½s in the shoe department and going home festooned with bags. Hitherto she has always respected the immaculate emptiness of handbags, carrying her few possessions in her pocket. Now she takes the Argentinian bag home and violates it by actually putting things into it And ‘she started to sleep around.’ It’s true that from the outset Cathy’s department has been ‘a discreet mess’. Still it was just, even if only just, within her control.

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