I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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Back To The Reader

Carol Taaffe
Anne Enright, Claire Bracken and Susan Cahill (eds), Irish Academic Press, €22.95, ISBN: 978-0716530817 In his introduction to The Penguin Book of Irish Fiction (1999), Colm Tóibín suggested that the developing climate in Ireland, post-Belfast Agreement and pro-European Union, might see “a waning of the national themes in Irish writing”. This literary future, he wrote, could be spied in the work of several women writers, including Anne Enright … who has taken up and refined the legacy of Sterne and Flann O’Brien and placed it in a Dublin which, for the first time in its long life in fiction, has become post-Freudian and post-feminist and, of course (three cheers!), post-nationalist. That judgement is quoted many times by the contributors to this collection of essays, though each of them has silently dropped Tóibín’s three cheers along the way. They also drop Lawrence Sterne and Flann O’Brien, two of the many ancestors of Enright’s wry and playful fiction. What remains, then, for discussion is a post-Freudian, post-feminist and post-nationalist writer, and those three co-ordinates largely orientate the essays that follow. Yet Anne Enright’s work has taken some unexpected turns since 1999, and those labels – such as they are – seem to matter less than ever before. What effect might that have on the critical map that is now being charted? Some of these essays do address the later developments in her writing, some question the suitability of different critical frames for her fiction, others confidently neglect such questions entirely. But as this is the first collection of essays devoted to Enright’soeuvre, the book’s critical co-ordinates should not be taken for granted. It will – it should shape future arguments about her work; it will direct our ways of looking at a career that is still very much in development. There is much to admire here: the collection is generous in its scope and themes, it is critically sophisticated, it adheres to its own impeccable rigour across the various essays. But to many readers of Enright’s work it will also seem a very unfriendly book. It is technical and uncompromising in many parts; it works its readers hard. Some will gladly accept that challenge, but others might find that the dark irony and humour of Enright’s fiction is sweated out along the way. In the interview which opens the book, Enright herself reflects on the kind of questions that an author is asked over…

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