Another triumph for Enright: a confluence of lyrical prose, immediacy, warmth, and emotional insight.


A daughter reveals the intertwined tales of her mother—a theatrical legend—and herself, a mature retrospective of sharing life with a towering but troubled figure.

Katherine O’Dell, star of stage and screen, blessed with beauty, red hair, and a gorgeous voice, “the most Irish actress in the world,” was not Irish at all. She was born in London, and the apostrophe in her name crept in by error via a review following one of her appearances on Broadway. However, the fact that Katherine is “a great fake” doesn’t cloud the love her daughter, Norah, has for her, a bond which exists alongside the unanswered question of Norah’s father’s identity, “the ghost in my blood.” The complexities of this mother/daughter relationship and its context in Ireland, the men it includes, and the turns both women’s lives take through the decades are the meat of this tender, possessive, searching new novel from Man Booker Prize–winning Irish novelist Enright (The Green Road, 2015, etc.). Saga-esque, it traces Katherine back to her parents, strolling players from another era who invited her on stage at age 10, scarcely imagining the luminous, internationally recognized figure this “useful girl” would become. But the novel is no fairy tale. Katherine’s life was marked with loneliness; disappointing, sometimes exploitative, and abusive men; the pressure of trying to remain successful; a desperate act of violence; and a breakdown. Norah narrates both her mother’s life and her own—she’s the author of five novels, a mother, a sexual being, and also the sole offspring of a parent she both adored and observed at a distance. Fame, sexuality, and the Irish influence suffuse the story, which ranges from glamour to tragedy, a portrait of “anguish, madness, and sorrow” haunted by a late, explanatory glimpse of horror which nevertheless concludes in a place of profound love and peace.

Another triumph for Enright: a confluence of lyrical prose, immediacy, warmth, and emotional insight.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-324-00562-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.


The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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