Some novels you nibble away at, half unthinking. Anne Enright's prose bites back. The Irish author of The Portable Virgin
and The Wig My Father Wore
has produced a third book as unexpected and lively as a miracle child--or is it twins? She tells the story of a Dubliner whose mother died in childbirth. Maria is now 20, living in New York, cleaning houses, taking drugs, sleeping with strangers, and generally being in a funk. In a lover's bag, she finds an old photo of a girl who looks just exactly like herself, dressed in clothes she's never owned, posing with people she's never met. But this isn't some gooey, alternate-reality identity fantasy. Maria has, in fact, a twin sister. Though each is unknown to the other, we learn both their lives inside out as they head toward a giddily inevitable meeting.
This twinning tale suits Enright's style right down to the ground: Her mandate is to bump us into awareness, and if it takes double heroines, so be it. Her language does the rest of the work. On the very first page, for instance, she freshens the simple act of holding a baby into a joke: "And they handed her on from arm to arm, with the dip that people make when they give away a baby--letting her body go and guiding her head, as though it might not be attached. Nothing worse than being left holding the baby, they seemed to say, except being left with the baby's head." In fact, Enright is transfixed by the weirdness of the body, as when Maria visits a dairy farm: "She is too old to dip her fingers in the milk and let the calves suck. Though when she does, a feeling she has never had before goes straight up her arm and into her right nipple. Hello, farming." Enright writes fiction meant to surprise. But her message is surprisingly traditional: biology matters. --Claire Dederer
From Publishers Weekly
After a flawlessly rendered first chapter, Enright, an Irish broadcast journalist, short story writer and novelist (The Wig My Father Wore), struggles to keep the assorted pieces of her novel together; it is fractured like the family it illuminates. Maria Delahunty is born in Dublin in 1965, delivered from her dying mother, who is comatose from a brain tumor. Maria's father, Berts, brings the baby home, and along with his new wife, Evelyn, they decide "to love each other if they could." But Maria grows up conflicted about herself, unable to decide whether she should live in her middle-class home in Dublin or in New York City, "the country of the lost." There, she imagines she can reinvent herself, but she ends up cleaning apartments. At 20, she falls in love with a man who carries in his wallet a picture of someone who looks strangely like her as a 12-year-old. Meanwhile, in England, a young woman named Rose, adopted by a wealthy family and also feeling curiously ill at ease about herself, decides she is not talented enough to pursue a career as a violinist, and begins to shoplift. At the same point, the two young women begin to search for each other, leading them back to that impulsive decision the bumbling though well-meaning Berts first made in the maternity ward. Enright's story is compelling, and she writes effectively and generously in the points of view of her various characters, especially in the flat, resigned voices of Evelyn and Berts. The facets of her plot keep multiplying, however, and the cut-and-paste sentences are more perplexing than evocative, e.g., "His head was full of saxophones that turned into fish, and ordinary matchboxes filled with dread." The narratives of unhappy Maria and unhappy Rose take on a whining redundancy that mars an otherwise boldly written work. Agent, Heather Schroeder. (Sept.) Cahners Business Information.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.