Caroline Moore

More down than up

Caroline Moore on Anne Enright's latest book

In one of the stories in this collection, a woman whose sister has died of anorexia remembers ‘an incident when she was maybe eight and I was twelve’ when the little girls encountered a flasher:

. . . it sort of jumped out and curled up, in a way that I now might recognise. At the time it looked like giblets, the same colour of subdued blood, dark and cooked, like that piece of the turkey our parents liked and called ‘the pope’s nose’.

Is this a reminiscence, conscious or otherwise, of the metaphor in The Bell Jar, when the boyfriend of Sylvia Plath’s heroine offers to let her ‘see’ him?

Then he just stood there in front of me and I kept on staring at him. The only thing I could think of was turkey neck and gizzards and I felt very depressed.

In Taking Pictures, all the narrators and protagonists, except one, are female; all are at least slightly mad; and all sound like Sylvia Plath. (The only story centred on a male hero, ‘Wife’, begins: ‘There was a new woman behind the counter in the newsagents and it took Noel a while to realise that her throat had been slit.’)

In the quotations above, Plath comes off best. Enright’s elaborations distract from the original striking image: the pygostyle is not a giblet (its introduction here surely only explicable by Catholic associations of pope/sex); and when cooked it is crisp-skinned, translucent yellow and goose- pimpled, unlike most erect male members. But perhaps I had better break off, lest lit crit becomes clit lit or a cookery column.

Enright may be more hit-and-miss, but at her best she too can startle with high-tension strangeness. Her originality is genuine, often blackly comic, and often triggered by her ear for the aslant contingencies of ordinary speech.

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