Actress: A Novel

by Anne Enright

Hardcover, 2020

Call number

FIC ENR

Collection

Publication

W. W. Norton & Company (2020), 272 pages

Description

"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."--… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member MissLissa23
I had to try twice to read this book, and I love historical fiction. It took me so long to get through it the time I did manage to finish. It was boring at times, but Enrights writing was brilliant enough to finally get me through. I guess what bothers me, was that I was supposed to feel something
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for Norah, and I didn’t. I just don’t see how a few moments of witnessing an eccentric mother could shape her into what she was? The relationship just didn’t seem compelling enough, or maybe it just wasn’t deep enough. Usually, historical fiction draws a much stronger emotion out of me, but this story left me flat.
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LibraryThing member gypsysmom
Every few years I read a review of Anne Enright's latest book and I think to myself "That sounds really good; I must read it." And every time when I do read it I am less than impressed with her writing. I think I should just face the fact that Anne Enright and I don't get along. (But I'll probably
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forget that in a few years and fall for another one.)

In this book the daughter of a famous Irish actress tries to answer the questions about her mother and herself that her mother is no longer there to answer. Katherine O'Dell came to fame with a role as a nursing nun in a World War II film but her roots were in theatre in the UK and Ireland. Her parents had been stage actors and Katherine just naturally learned the business. For a while it seemed like she would become a famous Hollywood actress but fame slipped away from her. She gave birth to her daughter, Norah, while she was in the USA but soon returned to Ireland as her home base. She never disclosed who Norah's father was, not even to Norah, and that is one of the questions Norah tries to answer. She also tries to probe her mother's mental breakdown that led to her shooting a producer who was supposed to be getting a play Katherine had written filmed. The producer was not killed but he had complications from the shot to his foot that plagued him the rest of his life. After about 100 pages too many Norah perhaps has some sort of answer about her mother's state of mind but she is no closer to knowing who her father is. I call that unsatisfactory although it is probably realistic.
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LibraryThing member grumpydan
Nora is the daughter of a once famous actress, Katherine O’Dell who towards the end of her career shoots someone. After being approached by a college student who is writing a thesis of her mother, Nora decides to take a journey and write about her mother’s life. This story is written as if it
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were a memoir and/or a biography and although we learn much about this celebrated, bohemian actress and her daughter, I felt no connection. I also felt it went nowhere and was disappointed by the whole story.
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LibraryThing member brangwinn
Norah is the daughter of a famous Irish actress. Katherine O’Dell has met with success but at 45 she’s struggling. Her good days are over, and Norah becomes not just a daughter but must keep picking up the pieces as her mother sinks into alcoholism, madness and violence. And yet, Norah keeps
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loving her mother. Of all the people, real and fictional in the book, I find Norah the most interesting. The ending was without resolution. I wonder if that was intentional. Is there a resolution to a relationship of mother and daughter?
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LibraryThing member chrisblocker
I was immediately pulled into this story about the daughter of a famous actress and their relationship with one another. The writing is beautiful and intelligent. The set up left me wanting to know more, rapidly turning pages to find out what's next. There's a power in those opening chapters that
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brings the reader in fully. And there's such a promise of great things to come.

Despite the truly wonderful prose and clear insight into these characters and how they relate with one another, the story sort of lost steam along the way. The final payoff was very much underwhelming. I enjoyed much of this novel, but overall, I felt a bit indifferent. Still, I'd love to read more from this author and hope I get the chance to someday.
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LibraryThing member thorold
Novelist Norah is being pestered by an irritatingly self-assured PhD student, who's writing a thesis about Norah's late mother, "The Irish actress" Katherine O'Dell. Which of course pushes Norah into lining up her own memories, that don't fit into the perky young woman's nice neat postmodern boxes
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for national and sexual identity, roles and performance.

Except that they do, in the end, but in a much-more-complicated-than-that kind of a way. And they are all mixed with Norah's own experience of a close, warm, exclusive mother-daughter bond set against the Ab-Fab frustration of being the serious daughter of an extravagant celebrity. Plus Irish history since the 1940s, lots of fascinating backstage stuff, a lot of very funny portraits of theatre, cinema and TV types (we can't help suspecting that we'd recognise them as caricatures if we lived in Dublin). A really touching, funny and clever novel, where my only real disappointment was that it wasn't a bit longer...

Enright turns out to be a very good reader of her own work: the Irishness is there in the audiobook without being hammed up (except where the text calls for it to be), and there's a constant mischievous quality in the reading that picks up jokes another reader might have missed, and undermines any tendency we might have to take Norah over-seriously and turn this into a romantic, sentimental story.
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LibraryThing member kcshankd
It is a fine novel, another book I wouldn't have spent more than a second dismissing if it wasn't for Powell's Indiespensable series. So I read it and it was... fine. Not my normal cup of tea, not sure who I would recommend read it, but a passable effort.
LibraryThing member froxgirl
This novel is the one you might create if you were an excellent writer, about your own beloved mother. Enright constructs two whole women of Dublin: Katherine O'Dell, famous Irish (or not) stage and screen actress and best known for being the star of an iconic TV commercial ("Sure, 'tis only
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butter"), and her daughter, Norah. The story is made up only of two attenuated, intertwined, glorious descriptions: Katherine's looks and mothering, and Norah's unnamed husband of thirty years, both seen through Norah's loving eyes. She is also seeking out the identity of her father, and makes some discoveries about the other men in her mother's life - a therapist/priest, actors, and the producer who Katherine shoots (literally) in the foot, mostly for denying her the movie role which would have sealed her fortune. The words are enchanting.

Quotes: "There should be a special word for trying to stay asleep even though you have to use the bathroom. You hang onto sleep as if hanging onto youth itself. You do not want to wake up, even though you are already awake. You think if you stay completely still, you will never have to die."

"Father Des had a kindly air I did not trust for being universally applied. He made me feel like a potted plant. It was always lovely when he was in the room, and yet no one had a good time. He looked like a pocket version of God."

"You have no idea what it is like, sitting next to someone at dinner who thinks they are superior to you, that they have been superior to you for centuries, no matter what you achieve and they fail to achieve."

"Sex is a route to dissatisfaction and can only go off, over time. There may be, at the heart of it, some mutual destruction. There is certainly a kind of undoing, that leaves us remade."

" We all consider sleeping with the bad man - we want to fix his hurt, or we want him to hurt us - one way or another, we are all attracted to the shadow."
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LibraryThing member sparemethecensor
I need to stop reading Anne Enright. I never like her novels. This one is too long, the writing style too self-indulgent, and ultimately entirely unsatisfying in character arc.

The novel is told from the perspective of the daughter of a once-famous screen and theatre actress who in middle age had a
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mental breakdown. I wish I could tell you more about the novel's protagonist but she is completely defined in relation to her mother, even in her own personal reflections and musings about herself. The character journey, which is ostensibly about finding out the identity of her biological father which her mother has kept secret, does not lead to any meaningful change or growth or revelation. I would recommend Maggie O'Farrell or Sally Rooney instead.
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LibraryThing member MissLissa23
I had to try twice to read this book, and I love historical fiction. It took me so long to get through it the time I did manage to finish. It was boring at times, but Enrights writing was brilliant enough to finally get me through. I guess what bothers me, was that I was supposed to feel something
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for Norah, and I didn’t. I just don’t see how a few moments of witnessing an eccentric mother could shape her into what she was? The relationship just didn’t seem compelling enough, or maybe it just wasn’t deep enough. Usually, historical fiction draws a much stronger emotion out of me, but this story left me flat.
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LibraryThing member brookiexlicious
As much as I love the theatre, there were references to plays and actors that I honestly couldn’t differentiate between which were real and fake, but that isn’t a fault, mind you. The writer’s passion for her home country of Ireland shines on the pages, with lush descriptions of the landscape
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and the Irish way of life.⁣
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LibraryThing member Kristelh
Reason Read: TIOLI, ROOT
Been on the shelf since 2020, Indispensable book Powell
Story of an actress told by her daughter. It is an in depth look at mother/daughter relationships. There is a lot of sexual detail in this book but it actually is well done.

Awards

Women's Prize for Fiction (Longlist — 2020)
Irish Book Award (Nominee — Novel — 2020)
BookTube Prize (Octofinalist — Fiction — 2021)

ISBN

1324005629 / 9781324005629
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