This Irish writer's American debut offers stunning images, though not enough story to make the evocative language truly resonant.
In 1965 Dublin a baby is born and a mother dies. What follows is over 20 years of fractured narrative as the girl grows up, the widower remarries, and a shocking secret is revealed. Taking time off from pursuing her engineering degree to live in New York, 20-year-old Maria falls in love with a man with a past-perhaps her own past. Innocently rummaging through his things one day, Maria finds among his possessions a picture of herself as a young girl, wearing clothes she's never owned and standing among people she's never met. Soon the mystery is resolved: The baby who was born was actually twins whom their distraught father Berts carelessly separated, choosing Maria, while Marie, renamed Rose, is adopted by an English couple living in London. As Enright flip-flops between Maria and Rose, the two women, so emotionally similar, grow up, choosing different though often parallel paths. The novel's haunting, albeit distant prose shines when describing the sensations of their mother Anna, pregnant and dying of a brain tumor, as she puts ketchup in the sugar bowl, and to her ailing mind the "sound of a tap dripping smel[ls] of roses." But far too often the narrative keeps Maria and Rose at arm's length, and the digressive revelations about middle-aged adulterer Berts, his new wife Evelyn, and Anna speaking from beyond the grave only widen the distance between the reader and the twins' unnamed heartache. Slowly the two sisters inch towards each other, but the final reconciliation of twin strangers isn't enough to save the meandering plot.
The story's structure is too loose to be compelling, but newcomer Enright's lyrical language bespeaks her talent.