The whole world is a stage

The whole world is a stage

“The Actress” shows the Irish author Anne Enright at the height of her work and tells of a difficult mother-daughter relationship.

Anne Enright tirelessly writes herself in the literary Olympus of our day. After “The Family Reunion” and “Rosaleen's Fest”, she presents her new book with “The Actress”. The focus is on the difficult relationship between actress Katherine O'Dell and her daughter Norah. "When she ate jam toast, she was like any other person who eats jam toast," writes the daughter. Then to describe in detail that she wasn't exactly that.

Because even eating a jam toast was staged. Just like the whole life of the great Irish actress, who actually comes from south London and whose family name Odell only gets its Gaelic refinement through the mistake of a typesetter. The red hair, the green clothes, the Dublin accent - “You could call her whatever you wanted, as long as you didn't call her an Englishwoman, because that would have been a terrible insult. And also, unfortunately, the truth. "

At the same time, it is the basis for her career, first on the stages in London, Dublin and New York, and later even in Hollywood. As Mary Felicitas in the play "Prayer Before Morning", she not only moved the audience on Broadway to tears, "the couple's last kiss would have made a bishop blush". The film adaptation of the stirring piece about the wounded US soldier Mulligan and the resolute Irish nurse behind the front in France during World War II established their fame.

Done at 45. The price for this is high. Both power-obsessed and nefarious agents take over Katherine's life. For image reasons, she was married to a homosexual alcoholic at the age of 21, whose antics came to a tragic end: "For eighteen months, they re-enacted the life that my mother had always mourned for the press." She does not get the roles she wants ; she doesn't want those she gets: “The truth is, Katherine O'Dell finished at forty-five. Professional. Sexually. When a woman turned thirty at the time, she went home and closed the door behind her. "

Anne Enright began working on "The Actress" a year before the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the #MeToo movement broke up. Much of what she describes reads prophetically. The daughter's mother never revealed who her father was. The narrator seeks the father as well as the true nature of her mother. “People ask me: What was she like?” Is the first sentence of the novel. But the daughter would like to know more about her mother: Who was she?

For the daughter, the search for her parents becomes an intensive search for herself, with attempts at self-liberation that are not always successful. Sexual oppression was not the only thing the mother experienced.

Katherine returns to Ireland from Hollywood - "My mother flew into this changed national mood like a bird against a window pane" - and has to get away with ever more undignified assignments. She can soon be seen at demonstrations between the Irish and the English, in the front row, wearing a Hermès headscarf.

Shot in the foot. In the end, Katherine is promoting Irish butter. What could be more Irish? Another circle closes: Grandfather once made his money smuggling butter from Ireland to war-starved London. Katherine has long since made no sense for this punchline: After she shoots an autocratic film producer who denied her a role decades ago "simply because he could", she is admitted to an institution. Marked by alcohol and tablets, she died at the age of 58.

Only: All of this has another twist. But it won't be revealed here. Instead, a strong recommendation for a book based on what author Enright's daughter Norah has to say about her mother Katherine: "She was never happy, but she put on a hell of a show."


Anne Enright
"The actress"

Translated by Eva Bonné

Penguin Publishing House

304 pages

22.70 euros

("Die Presse", print edition, 07/19/2020)