by Sheila Cornelius
one exception, the narrators in these nineteen stories are female
and for the most part lower-middle-class. Focusing on relationships
within the family or between couples, they portray dysfunction within
modern Irish families and a huge gap between expectations and
reality. Whilst the dialogue sparkles with the lively
frankness and humour readers have come to associate with Irish prose in
these stories set in or near Dublin, their complexity locates them well
outside Roddy Doyle territory.
situations are easy to relate to: the young mother of a newborn chafes
at her in-laws; a housewife faces clothes-drying problems on a wet
family holiday; a man fixes a dripping tap for his mother. Sometimes
protagonists are upwardly mobile, like the secretary resigned to
sleeping with her boss or the market-gardener who dreams of totally
organic produce. It is the surprise narrative twists which distinguish
these stories, as when a sister acknowledges a family’s collective
guilt for a death, a housewife sees a ghost in a caravan or a young
woman is almost murdered by a fellow student.
generally are not a source of comfort for Anne Enright’s women; even
the joy they find in their children is temporary, as witnessed by the
lonely theatre cleaner in What
you Want. Men’s inadequacies go further than that depicted
in the aptly titled The
Bad Sex Weekend. The serial philanderer of Until the Girl Died
is an extreme case, but men in general are unreliable, (In the Bed Department)
absent, (What you Want)or
harbour violent fantasies (Wife).
Men and women’s goals rarely coincide. Only when a man is rendered
dependent, one might say infantilized, by mental or physical
disability, (Pale Hands
I loved, Beside the Shalamar and Della
respectively), or traumatized (Here’s
to Love), are women permitted a flowering of their
If men are a
disappointment and children bring drudgery, other women, even best
friends, are rivals, as when two friends get ready for a dance and take
contrasting, proprietary attitudes towards an older woman’s illness (Natalie) or where
women in complementary businesses are rivals instead of allies (Green).
lyrical prose is what makes these stories a pleasure to read. She
constantly finds comparisons in mundane details. A baby with a cold
nuzzles its mother (Yesterday’s
Weather) so that:
Hazel’s navy top was criss-crossed with
what looked like slug-trails
or a young woman
expresses compassion for her child-like sweetheart (Pale Hands I loved, Beside the
We have sex sweet
is a superb metaphor for the bride-to-be’s mesmerized fear in the title
It is such a beautiful blue. The fire
gathers the air and loses
it; drinking it, slurping it down.
with James Joyce’s Dubliners,
each one of these personal narratives
stands alone but they are united by a common theme: women’s
disappointments. Taken together, they form a portrait of modern Irish
society in which women are restricted by traditional roles in a society
moving into the modern world.
lecturer, Sheila Cornelius
studied English Literature at Goldsmiths and has an M.Ed. (Language and
Literature in Society) and an MA in Media Studies. The London-based
writer is the author of a book on Chinese film and reviews cultural
events for websites. She also writes short stories.
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
collection?: No, second
Longlisted for the Frank O'Connor International
Short Story Award 2008
bio: Born in Dublin where she now lives
and works, Anne
Enright has published a previous
collection of stories, The
Portable Virgin, one book of non-fiction, Making Babies and
four novels, of which the latest The
Gathering, won the 2007 Man Booker Prize.
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