This was my first Anne Enright, and oh I’m so glad there are loads more to discover. What a beautifully crafted exploration of a woman on the verge of a family.
An affair with a friend of a friend that drags out from a passionate one-night business trip fling. The story seems to be such a typical exploration of mid-life worries: the death of a mother, the stress of family life, sibling anger at others’ decisions, the struggle for property, that bricks-and-mortar epitome of ourselves which can be so important.
Putting pen to paper to describe it, I begin to realise the cleverness of Enright’s craft. The story runs roughly chronological, but told with a lot of hindsight from the narrator, Gina. And yet what really happens? A marriage starts and ends, the narrator moves back into the old family home, and a little girl witnesses a kiss between her father and another woman. But the flitting style of narrative, leaves much unsaid and leads us in implicit directions.
It’s all about the turning of the relationship around the young daughter of Seán, Evie, who may or may not be scarred by some type of epilepsy, and is therefore so carefully protected. Enright leads us through the implications of this on a family unit: the mother trying to control everything, the father trying to obey and caught unhappily in a marriage that cannot be escaped, the little girl oblivious, sometimes vacant, in the middle of it all. But this isn’t even all the focus of the story, because this is Gina’s story:
These things happen all the time. You catch a stranger’s eye, for a moment too long, and then you look away.
I was just back from holidays – a week with Conor’s sister in Sydney, then north to this amazing place where we learned how to scuba dive. Where we also learned, as I recall, how to have sex while sober; a simple trick, but a good one, it was like taking off an extra skin. Maybe this was why I could meet Seán’s eye. I had just been to the other side of the world. I was looking, by my own standards, pretty good. I was in love – properly in love – with a man I would soon decide to marry, so when he looked at me, I did not feel afraid.
Perhaps I should have done.
And I can’t for the life of me, recall what Evie looked like that day. She would have been four, but I can’t think how that would play on the girl I know now. All I saw that afternoon was a child with a dirty face. So Evie is just a kind of smudge in the picture, which is otherwise so clear. [p9-10]
This is writing that can turn on a feather, as agile and quick as our racing thoughts. Mesmerisingly good. And yet with an imperfect heroine who never accepts fault, who stalks her lover one night, and who will always be second in line for affection behind Evie to Seán.