Saturday, December 12, 2009

What Are You Like?

I discovered Anne Enright about a year ago. The Gathering really moved me, and The Wig My Father Wore was a fun literary experience for me.

On a recent trip to NY, we hit our favorite book store - The Strand - for which I had specifically left space in my suitcase. I spied a copy of The Gathering for my friend and What Are You Like? for myself. Like her other books, Enright's incredible prose is relentlessly invigorating. It's easy to get lost in the way she combines words - I think she benefits from multiple readings.

What are you like begins with a fairy-tale-like story of a pregnant woman who tries to undo things - "She pulled him to her every night, as though to make children where there was already a child, as though to unmake the child and let it swim away."
There was a kind of pleasure to it that he had not seen in her before, never mind the crockery in the hot press, the cutlery in bed. The house filled up with unread books, and she sang to the radio as she cleaned.

After that thrilling beginning (Enright has incredible pacing), the book focuses on two seemingly unrelated young women on somewhat similar paths. As the title suggests, she explores why people do the things they do. Themes of identity and nationality emerge:
She took a baby clam on the end of her fork and look at it. So this was who she was. She was a person who picked at her food. She picked at her food because she was a woman. She picked at her food because she was English, because she was Irish. She picked at her food because she was a Capricorn, because when she was a baby she had choked on a on a spoonful of puréed parsnip, because she was a famine gene, or a food-picking gene, or because when she was young her mother told her to sit up straight and not wolf her food. She picked at her food because she was middle class.

It's a lovely book. I suggest reading it. Twice.

Check it out! There's a preview on Google Books:

No comments: