Foren­sic re­flec­tions of a fic­tion lau­re­ate

Dur­ing her four-year ten­ure as the first Ir­ish fic­tion lau­re­ate, Anne En­right of­ten wielded her pen like a sharp­ened blade

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - BOOK REVIEWS - Pe­ter Mur­phy

No Au­thor­ity: Writ­ings from the Lau­re­ate­ship

By Anne En­right

YUCD Press, 109pp, ¤20

ears ago record la­bels would some­times fur­nish press out­lets with some­thing called a sam­pler – usu­ally a four- or five-track se­lec­tion from a larger work to come. Anne En­right’s No Au­thor­ity, a se­lec­tion of lec­tures, es­says and short fic­tion writ­ten dur­ing her ten­ure as the first Ir­ish fic­tion lau­re­ate be­tween 2015 and 2018, is too sub­stan­tial an arte­fact to be con­sid­ered a sam­pler, but at 100-odd pages it’s still closer to fun-sized than the full Toblerone.

Nev­er­the­less, the pro­duc­tion val­ues are lav­ish, fea­tur­ing a hand­some hard­back cover and el­e­gant de­sign, like a miniWin­ter Pa­pers au­thored by a sin­gle hand.

“These writ­ings are my blun­der­ing at­tempt to find clar­ity, in a con­fus­ing time,” En­right states in her in­tro­duc­tion, re­fer­ring to a pe­riod that en­com­passed Brexit, the rise of Trump, #MeToo, Wak­ing the Fem­i­nists, the abor­tion ref­er­en­dum and other so­cial con­vul­sions.

Her open­ing lec­ture, Antigone in

Gal­way, an ex­plo­ration of the Tuam mother and baby home scan­dal, leaves the reader reel­ing. This isn’t the first time of­fi­cial Ire­land’s op­pres­sion of its women and chil­dren has been re­cast as a Greek psy­chic blood­bath (Ma­rina Carr, Sea­mus Heaney, Bren­dan Ken­nelly and Frank McGuin­ness have all, as they say, gone there), but En­right’s con­trolled prose am­pli­fies the sheer Gothic hor­ror of ba­bies’ bones found in sep­tic tanks, of priests and fam­ily mem­bers with the power to sec­tion young women, of un­of­fi­cial burial sites that “con­tain the graves of un­bap­tised in­fants, but also of women who died in child­birth, “changeling” chil­dren, sui­cides, ex­e­cuted crim­i­nals and the in­sane (in­fan­ti­cides were typ­i­cally dis­posed of with­out burial)”.

The sense of foren­sic in­quiry is equally ev­i­dent in Call Your­self Ge­orge: Gen­der Rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Ir­ish Lit­er­a­ture, where En­right doesn’t so much make an ar­gu­ment for gen­der par­ity in the book busi­ness – par­tic­u­larly in news­pa­per re­view pages – as sim­ply present the facts and let them speak. It’s a sub­ject big enough to de­mand its own book. Why, if the mar­ket is mostly dic­tated by women read­ers, are roughly a third of the ti­tles pub­lished by fe­male au­thors? It makes one won­der if there ac­tu­ally has been an ex­plo­sion of Ir­ish women’s lit­er­ary fic­tion over the past decade, or if it was al­ways there but sup­pressed, await­ing an­thol­o­gists and ed­i­tors such as Sinéad Glee­son and Lucy Caldwell.

Of the two short sto­ries, The Ho­tel is a strange vi­gnette lo­cated in an al­most Bal­lar­dian space, all air­port walk­ways and con­crete car parks, a study in flu­o­res­cent 21st-cen­tury alien­ation which could be in­ter­preted as a sleep­walker’s dream scripted by Lynne Ram­say, or an ana­logue for the spir­i­tual dis­so­ci­a­tion of the mi­grant in a name­less Eu­ro­pean city. Just be­neath the sur­face is a closely ob­served, ra­dioac­tive men­ace: “In­stead of a re­cep­tion­ist there is a man with a gun who is so bored, he is out of his mind with bore­dom. He ad­justs his crotch to the left, hoists his belt, he has to shake out the hand that is clutch­ing the stock of his gun, and he checks out the tits of the women in line, he is just check­ing tits all night be­cause he is so bored he just wants to f**k some­body now.”

The sec­ond story, Sol­stice, is an equally cool-eyed ex­am­i­na­tion of sub­ur­ban re­pres­sion that, through some strange sleight of hand, man­ages to gen­er­ate the prom­ise of a thaw in its clos­ing sen­tences.

En­right writes with a sharp­ened blade, and No Au­thor­ity opens ground that de­mands fur­ther till­ing. In the book’s af­ter­word, she re­calls her first of­fi­cial out­ing as lau­re­ate in Long­ford Pub­lic Li­brary, an event at­tended by Louise Lovett, whose sis­ter Ann died ex­actly 30 years be­fore in Gra­nard: “I do not think I was ap­pointed lau­re­ate be­cause I was a woman. The busi­ness of writ­ing is hard enough with­out tak­ing on the ad­di­tional bur­den of gen­der pol­i­tics. Lis­ten­ing to ar­gu­ments about gen­der makes men mildly de­fen­sive and takes very lit­tle of their time. If you are a woman, mak­ing these ar­gu­ments will eat your head, your tal­ent, and your life.

“None of this ever seemed to me fair, or even use­ful. But that gath­er­ing in Long­ford was telling me its own story. If it held the prom­ise of books to come, it also held re­minders of events that had shaped my own work, some of them un­bear­ably sad. I am, by age and stage, a kind of bridge be­tween a bright fu­ture for the voices of Ir­ish women and a ter­ri­ble past.”

Pe­ter Mur­phy is the au­thor of the nov­els John the Reve­la­tor and Shall We Gather at the River. He will re­lease his first al­bum, Cursed Mur­phy Ver­sus the Re­sis­tance, in 2020

PHO­TO­GRAPH: ALAN BETSON

Anne En­right, with her mother Cora in 2015, when she was an­nounced as in­au­gu­ral lau­re­ate for Ir­ish fic­tion.

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