cover image The Wren, the Wren

The Wren, the Wren

Anne Enright. Norton, $27.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-324-00568-1

The whip-smart latest from Booker winner Enright (The Gathering) explores the complex legacy of a revered Irish poet. It begins in contemporary Dublin with late poet Phil McDaragh’s granddaughter Nell, a recent university graduate who falls for and remains attached to a man despite suspecting he’s being unfaithful and feeling underwhelmed by the sex (“not even bad in a good way”). Enright contrasts Nell’s defiant and free-spirited narration with that of Carmel, Nell’s caring and practical mother, who ponders her daughter’s future and the pain of Phil’s abandonment of her mother, Terry, when she was battling breast cancer. Phil’s legacy is present within the novel in two forms: his poems, resplendent with images of birds and bucolic lyricism, which Enright presents in their entirety; and his troubling personal life, both as an absentee father and a toxic partner to various women (a former lover and fellow poet’s relationship with him is characterized on a Wikipedia page as “abusive”). Enright imbues a sense of great importance to domestic incidents, such as in a flashback to Nell as a child, when Carmel strikes her after she acts out by breaking a light fixture, but the tone is far from despondent; the prose fizzes with wit and bite. Enright’s discomfiting and glimmering narrative leans toward a poetic sense of hope. (Sept.)