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Actress: Book summary and reviews of Actress by Anne Enright

Actress by Anne Enright X
Actress by Anne Enright
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  • Publishes in USA 
    Mar 3, 2020
    272 pages
    Genre: Novels

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Book Summary

From the Man Booker Prize–winner, a brilliant and moving novel about celebrity, sexual power, and a daughter's search to understand her mother's hidden truths.

Katherine O'Dell is an Irish theater legend. As her daughter Norah retraces her mother's celebrated career and bohemian life, she delves into long-kept secrets, both her mother's and her own.

Katherine began her career on Ireland's bus-and-truck circuit before making it to London's West End, Broadway, and finally Hollywood. Every moment of her life is a star turn, with young Norah standing in the wings. But the mother-daughter romance cannot survive Katherine's past or the world's damage. With age, alcohol, and dimming stardom, her grip on reality grows fitful and, fueled by a proud and long-simmering rage, she commits a bizarre crime.

Her mother's protector, Norah understands the destructive love that binds an actress to her audience, but also the strength that an actress takes from her art. Once the victim of a haunting crime herself, Norah eventually becomes a writer, wife, and mother, finding her way to her own hard-won joy. Actress is finally a book about the freedom we find in our work and in the love we make and keep.

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Media Reviews

"Fame, sexuality, and the Irish influence suffuse the story, which ranges from glamour to tragedy...Another triumph for Enright: a confluence of lyrical prose, immediacy, warmth, and emotional insight." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

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Reader Reviews

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Della S. (Rockville, MD)

An Evocative Portrait of Family and Fame
Anne Enright's latest novel explores fame and its effects on both the famous and their family, while also creating an intimate portrait of a complex mother-daughter relationship. Katherine O'Dell's rise ( and fall from) fame and success is told through the eyes of her daughter Norah, who has reached middle age without reconciling her feelings or thoughts about her mother, her mother's fame or her own life trajectory.

Enright's cool prose perfectly captures Norah's measured review while surgically delving into both women's complicated psyches. Focusing tightly on the two characters, Enright explores issues of politics, gender, loss and power.

This book will undoubtedly serve as a standard, not only for great Irish literature, but for women's literature. In light of the #MeToo movement, it is a must-read for book clubs and will provide hours of thoughtful discussion.

Gina T. (Natick, MA)

a unique mother-daughter relationship
Anne Enright does not disappoint with her new novel. It explores a very unique mother-daughter relationship in her beautiful, deliberate prose.In a recent interview with the author, she credits her father for valuing equanimity. This greatly influences her steady, descriptive style. We are also shaped by our mothers and Enright explores the relationship of this complex pair. This novel will appeal to fans of Enright, Bannville, Strout and admirers of traditional literature. this novel would make an excellent book club selection.

Valerie M. (Los Angeles, CA)

Mothers and their Secrets
"Actress" is a story of two women: a needy artist, and the daughter who witnesses her diminished fame and confidence. It is a novel of intimacies, inheritance, unrequited longing, and death by paper cuts. A lot of the novel treads on the supposition that actresses are unhappy people searching for humanity and love among strangers- and that strangers are desperate to know if actresses are normal people, or not.

The story begins with Norah looking back on her mother's glittery life of stardom and applause. As a child, she was transfixed by Katherine O'Dell's talent, watching her perform on stage. Too young to understand jealousy and loneliness, Norah was oblivious to her mother's secret life. When she digs deeper into the woman her mother turned into she sees a woman much different than the legendary stage performer she admired from afar.

The seventh novel of Irish writer Anne Enright is a compelling character study with a quiet message. Daughters don't really know their mothers. They were absent during the experiences that damaged and changed their mothers. The person they know is the adult and not the curious girl who had change thrust upon her by circumstance and so she adapted. Enright hones in on something very real about powerful mothers and their daughters. There is no choice but to mimic your beautiful mother so you can turn into her as a compliment. Until her mind begins to thin and crack and the fantasy of the good mother dissolves.

Then the daughter has to take a step back, away from the person she thinks her mother is, and who ironically, she has become as well.

Rosanna H. (Tuckahoe, NY)

Actress: A Novel by Anne Enright
This novel paints a vivid portrait of actress Katherine O'Dell, lovingly drawn by her daughter Norah. As Norah recalls her mother's life and researches the past, we gradually learn the harsh truths concealed by her mother's romanticizing of her life's events.

I was fascinated by the story of Katherine O'Dell, which is brilliantly told by author Ann Enright. The book is a superb character study filled with a host of interesting characters who surround our heroine. Dublin itself, the main backdrop for the story, is brought colorfully to life by Enright's vivid descriptions.

I recommend this book for book clubs. Enright's brilliant character study, vivid descriptions, and subtle unfolding of the plot provide rich material for a good discussion. The book overall provides an engrossing and satisfying reading experience.

Myrna M. (Chapel Hill, NC)

Acclaim for this "Actress"
Avid reader though I am, I had never heard of Anne Enright until I requested The Actress for review. Now I plan to read all of her books. What does this say about The Actress?

It is an epic poem in the guise of prose, an epic poem with only the barest whiff of a plot, a fictional autobiography whose central character is not the person "talking" but that person's mother—the glorious red -haired Irish (born English but best for her career she doesn't disclose her origins) actress Katherine O'Dell.

If one is looking for a plot, here it is: a beautiful actress reaches the heights, falters, declines, commits a crime, goes (is she all along?) mad. Her daughter relates all of this while also describing her own life as intertwined with her mother's rise and fall. So simple, but so beautifully told that it is difficult to interrupt reading --not to find out what happens next (this is definitely not a thriller) but what will the characters think next, how will their relationship evolve next, what will be the impact of the ancillary characters.

In the long run, it is not the story, which is simple, but the writing that carries this book—Enright's ability to use simple language to express emotions, forthright descriptions of sex, believable dialogue, her right words in the right order—that made this reader enjoy the book until the final period

Ora Jonasson (Anacortes, WA)

Anne Enright uses words like an artist works with water colors. Flowing shades and blending tones paint a portrait of Kathrine O'Dell, coming-of-age during the 1960s, in the throes of Irish theater and politics. She creates the existence of a woman whose life on stage or before cameras completely overshadows her physical awareness. This duel-reality is revealed through the eyes of her daughter, Norah FitzMaurcice, whose life is blended into her mother's fantasies; an element of the same painting.
I found myself immersed in the human struggles encountered between roles and realities, applause and rejection. Time flows in and out like the tide, enriching the complexities and depth of an actor's life and a daughter's search for self.

...16 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Anne Enright Author Biography

Photo: Hugo Chaloner

Anne Enright was born in Dublin, where she now lives and works. She has published three volumes of stories, one book of nonfiction, and five novels. In 2015, she was named the inaugural Laureate for Irish Fiction. Her novel The Gathering won the Man Booker Prize, and The Forgotten Waltz won the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.

Other books by Anne Enright at BookBrowse
  • The Forgotten Waltz jacket

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