Magazine article The Spectator

More Down Than Up

Magazine article The Spectator

More Down Than Up

Article excerpt

TAKING PICTURES by Anne Enright Cape, £12.99, pp. 228 ISBN 9780224084697 £10.39 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

In one of the stories in this collection, a woman whose sister has died of anorexia remembers 'an incident when she was maybe eight and I was twelve' when the little girls encountered a flasher:. . . it sort of jumped out and curled up, in a way that I now might recognise. At the time it looked like giblets, the same colour of subdued blood, dark and cooked, like that piece of the turkey our parents liked and called 'the pope's nose'.

Is this a reminiscence, conscious or otherwise, of the metaphor in The Bell Jar, when the boyfriend of Sylvia Plath's heroine offers to let her 'see' him?

Then he just stood there in front of me and I kept on staring at him. The only thing I could think of was turkey neck and gizzards and I felt very depressed.

In Taking Pictures, all the narrators and protagonists, except one, are female; all are at least slightly mad; and all sound like Sylvia Plath. (The only story centred on a male hero, 'Wife', begins: 'There was a new woman behind the counter in the newsagents and it took Noel a while to realise that her throat had been slit.') In the quotations above, Plath comes off best. Enright's elaborations distract from the original striking image: the pygostyle is not a giblet (its introduction here surely only explicable by Catholic associations of pope/sex); and when cooked it is crisp-skinned, translucent yellow and goosepimpled, unlike most erect male members.

But perhaps I had better break off, lest lit crit becomes clit lit or a cookery column.

Enright may be more hit-and-miss, but at her best she too can startle with hightension strangeness. Her originality is genuine, often blackly comic, and often triggered by her ear for the aslant contingencies of ordinary speech. A woman asks after her lover's wife:

'How's Maria?' 'Oh, she's up and down, ' he says.

'Right.' Because 'up and down' is Irish for anything at all, from crying into the dishes to full-blown psychosis. Though, now that I think about it, a psychotic is more normally 'not quite herself '.

Her stories show women at odds with their own lives and their own bodies. They are deeply confused about their own needs and wants and desires -- not just emotionally illiterate, but emotionally dyslexic. Sex is routinely divorced not only from love, but even from desire: 'Two people who don't want to sleep with each other, snogging and clawing and pushing each other against cupboards.' Enright is particularly good at the voices of the young, who are struggling to find their identities, feel their selves are 'living in the wrong person', and do not yet know what they want. …

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