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Taking Pictures 
Anne Enright

I’d never wanted money – wasn’t that lucky? Because if I’d wanted it I might have got it, and wouldn’t that be an awful tragedy, an endangerment to my soul? And I never wanted fame. I just wanted stupid things, like knowing the right thing to wear for a christening, or my mother not dying so early or someone to help me out at home. "

Reviewed by Sheila Cornelius

With 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. 

The everyday 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. 

Families 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 protective instinct. 

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). 

Enright’s 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 Shalamar):
We have sex sweet as rainwater
Spilled brandy is a superb metaphor for the bride-to-be’s mesmerized fear in the title story,
Taking Pictures:
It is such a beautiful blue. The fire gathers the air and loses it; drinking it, slurping it down.
As 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.

A retired 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.

Sheila's other Short Reviews: Anne Enright "Taking Pictures"

Courttia Newland "Music for the Off-Key"

PublisherJonathan Cape

Publication Date: March 2008

Paperback/Hardback? Hardback

First collection?No, second

Awards: Longlisted for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award 2008

Author 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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