Book Review: Readings
Signature spare language with flares of lyricism from Booker Prize-winner Anne Enright
Reviewed by Elizabeth Jackson, Fri., Oct. 10, 2008
Yesterday's Weatherby Anne Enright
Grove Press, 320 pp., $24
The characters who populate Irish writer Anne Enright's short-story collection, Yesterday's Weather, live beyond their means – emotionally. Their small-scale landscapes – family, marriage, sex, death – belie the cataclysmic nature of their interior lives. Within the intimacy and ennui of close relations, Enright's characters flash into brutality, failure, and reconciliation. A wide range of narrators, too, engages the reader as if in midconversation, each presenting a distinctive voice, frequently self-deprecating, always incisive. Enright's biting humor permeates as well, as when an American shares his background: "I went to school with guys so stupid you look at them on the football field and you think, 'Why don't we just eat them?'"
Enright, who won last year's Booker Prize for her novel The Gathering, follows the subtle shifts of human relations like cloud cover. In variations of personal struggle and release, her characters teeter along a fine-grade balance that includes the explosive hatred you can only hold for someone who lives closest to your heart. In the opening story, a woman discovers her husband's latest infidelity by his reaction to news of his lover's accidental death. She holds an uneasy relationship to her own rage as she tells herself: "I am not that kind of person. I am not going to ... show up at the cemetery to ... pick up a few words here and there, about what a fine girl she was, 'irrepressible,' 'full of fun.' Bloody right she was full of fun." In a characteristic treatment, Enright approaches death, as well as sex, with both irreverence and a full appreciation.
Enright's bracingly spare language transcends sheer craft with flares of lyricism. A woman describes her husband: "in the modern, blue water, swimming without a splash. He is like the old ladies you see on the French coast, who paddle out in their sunglasses and hairdos, and paddle back again, gossiping, like so many bodiless heads." Enright leaves nothing extraneous in this tour de force of the short-story form, concentrating intense characters, imagery, and personal revelations within a few pages. Such a simple thing, and yet with the completion of each turn, you marvel at how little material can accomplish so much. Toward the end of the collection, the stories grow increasingly heavy-handed and self-consciously stylized. The fact that they represent earlier stages of her career reduces their significance in light of her work as a whole.