Today, it’s an exciting review of a new book that I’m completely in love with – Actress by Anne Enright.
I’ve never read anything from Anne Enright before so I’m not familiar with her writing style but as soon as I saw this book being released, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I read it in two days straight as I just couldn’t put it down! But first, what’s it about? Here’s the blurb:
This is the story of Irish theatre legend Katherine O’Dell, as told by her daughter Norah. It tells of early stardom in Hollywood, of highs and lows on the stages of Dublin and London’s West End. Katherine’s life is a grand performance, with young Norah watching from the wings.
But this romance between mother and daughter cannot survive Katherine’s past, or the world’s damage. As Norah uncovers her mother’s secrets, she acquires a few of her own. Then, fame turns to infamy when Katherine decides to commit a bizarre crime.
Actress is about a daughter’s search for the truth: the dark secret in the bright star, and what drove Katherine finally mad.
Brilliantly capturing the glamour of post-war America and the shabbiness of 1970s Dublin, Actress is an intensely moving, disturbing novel about mothers and daughters and the men in their lives. A scintillating examination of the corrosive nature of celebrity, it is also a sad and triumphant tale of freedom from bad love, and from the avid gaze of the crowd.
I loved this book so much. It’s a book that is brilliantly written. It’s rooted in truth and you just get swept up in the story. It’s a story about celebrity, the pressure of celebrity and fame. But ultimately, it’s about a mother and daughter relationship. I love a novel about the dynamics of two people and this is no exception. The relationship between Norah and her mother, the legend and star Katherine O’Dell, is complex, layered, complicated and messy. Through Hollywood parties, stage performances, tales from the film sets, and more, we see this relationship grow but also fracture, too. The relationship felt real – in the same vein as Daisy Jones and the Six felt like a real band. Enright’s writing is so intelligent, so sharp, she just gets right to the core of this relationship.
I loved several themes in the novel but I loved the theme of performance running throughout the novel and of performativity in itself. Whether that’s the performance on stage or the performativity of gender, religion, sex – all of these play a part in the novel and its characters. It also made me think of all the masks we put on for different people, hiding the true person underneath – which is something we see with Katherine quite a lot in the audience. I felt that Enright captured this idea of performance brilliantly and showed the complexity of that – especially performing for an audience. At what cost?
Overall, this is a book that is tender, dark, unsettling, but brilliant in its wisdom and exploration of family, mother and daughter dynamics, but also full of nostalgia, of looking for truth and meaning. For wanting to understand your past to understand your present and also the future. It’s a book that gripped me right from the start with its piercing prose that will leave you breathless.
I hope this book is nominated for every book prize going this year because it really deserves it. One of my favourite books of the year so far – it deserves a big, brilliant standing ovation.
I can’t wait to read more of Enright’s novels after this. Have you read Actress yet? What did you think? What novel of Enright’s is your favourite? Let me know in the comments!