Actress
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Actress

Anne Enright

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.      

Review

Years after her death, myths still circulate about Katherine O'Dell, Irish legend of stage and screen. Questions persist regarding her origins and her rise to fame. Of even more interest, of course, is her midlife decline, with a precipitous descent into madness and the perpetration of a shocking crime. In an effort to set the record straight, O'Dell’s daughter Norah takes on the task of fighting through the misrepresentations, revealing long-held secrets about both her mother and herself.

What an absolute pleasure, in the middle of the 2020 Australian summer, to read a book that so stunningly and effortlessly transports you to another time and place. You’ll feel as if you’re reading this under the soft grey skies of mid-century Ireland. Enright crafts images so stark you can see them clearly in front of you: the aging movie star in her Dior dress, the dirt and energy of a 1920s birth on a tenement landing, the excitement of the first dishwasher in Ireland magically dispelling dirt and ushering in a more modern future.

However, if you’re looking for a plot-heavy, fast-paced page-turner, look elsewhere. Enright’s skill lies in the creation of seemingly quiet stories with unparalleled emotional and psychological depth. Enright has a magical gift of imbuing more meaning in one or two sentences than most writers can manage in an entire book. Anyone who has ever read her Man Booker award-winning novel, The Gathering, will back me up on that one.

This may be premature, but I have a feeling Actress will make its way on to the ‘best of’ lists of 2020. Stay ahead of the curve, read it now.


Tristen Brudy works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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