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Location: Dublin, Republic of, Ireland

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Watching Anne Enright Read at Trinity

This evening, I went to listen to current Man Booker Prize winner, Anne Enright read from her new collection of short stories, called Taking Pictures, at Trinity College.

The lively session had commanded two other established poets as well, one of them being Bernard O Donoghue who with his natural flair for high comedy, read and chuckled with equal succession from a collected selection of poetry just published by Faber&Faber. There was also the distinguished poet and publisher Peter Fallon of The Gallery Press who provided a pensive treat. The event forms part of a weekly series of readings to highlight 10th anniversary celebrations for the Oscar Wilde Centre for Irish Writing.

All were respectively introduced by Gerald Dawe.

I had already purchased Taking Pictures in January and remember the mostly taciturn women characters, as being melancholy and mournful while the prose had stayed true to its course with Enright's razor-sharp dose of black humour. The fictitious tragedies that depict Ireland today, are also heavily imbued with Enright's acerbic wit.

In fact,I had joked with a member of the audience that after reading the stories, a woman may be bound to have second thoughts about marriage and demonstrating understanding, she had laughed.

With dark and haunted themes of family secrets similar to The Gathering locked into Taking Pictures, I watched Enright playact one of the poignant tales; the polished actress performing to perfection and lost to the rest of us with an absorbing enigma. Now the cynic character seemed darker, larger than life, slightly frightening and thoroughly gripping. At that point, Anne Enright had the audience completely mesmerised.

As a swift introduction beforehand, she had remarked that people often asked if she didn't mind constantly repeating herself by having to read the same stories or answer memorable questions. She said that she would reply in good humour that she didn't as most of us were constantly repeating ourselves consciously anyway, whether we realised it or not.

I also found her fascinating to watch.

She was often restless in her seat, bright-eyed and observant and while spotting brisk movements, expressed the same buoyant energy as the tone of her stories. She was petite while her voice boomed. She wore a no-fuss suit with a gorgeous piece of eye-catching jewellery at her neck. She looked attractive, her face a picture of candid animation while devoid of pretension and I got the impression that photography simply did not do her justice. She was far more striking than any studied snapshot may have revealed.

One got the feeling that Enright did not believe in wasting time either as she dashed swiftly to the podium reflecting the mastery of a no-nonsense manner, even as the first poet was still on his way back to his seat. Straightaway, she reminded me of a stylish if not slightly sombre schoolteacher, somewhere in my Convent past.

An intimate atmospheric setting completed the picture.

I was the second person to ask Enright if she would sign my books very early on, as soon as the event had finished. She found it difficult to sit in one place to do any signings but moved around. After a blonde called Penny who had her book signed while it was held up high in the air like a suspenseful magic act, Enright would take my copy and dart with alacrity from one end of the room to the other, looking for a good spot to sign my book.

It was an unexpected thing and while she strode about with lightning speed, I had run behind her with a slight trepidation, so as to keep up. I felt I was an errant pupil handing in some late homework and that I was now being marched without further ado, to the Principal's office. The exception here of course, was that I was no more in pinafore and that far from wearing a frown, Enright's eyes were twinkling.

Later, I saw her bent over her scrawled signature in deep concentration while stationed precariously close to a computer. This explained the slight impatience and restlessness I had picked up and her desire to be constantly on the move.

It was a splendid evening surely but if I could make one more personal observation, Anne Enright is not a woman you'd want to cross. Don't ask me how I know though. I'd just blame it on a miraculous foresight.

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