Sunday, February 03, 2008

Enright on the night!

Back to the Pavilion Theatre again earlier this week for a reading by our local Booker winner Anne Enright. (After this no posts about either Enright OR the Pavilion for a while - promise!) The event was held as a fundraiser for the ‘Out-Back’ project run by the Pavilion, where Enright’s husband Martin Murphy is Artistic Director, and it proved to be a very interesting and enjoyable evening, with Enright’s good friend Gerry Stembridge doing the introduction and interview duties.

If you're not Irish (and of a certain age) Stembridge may not be the most familiar name – but round these parts, he's probably most well known for his role in writing the infamous radio programme Scrap Saturday, which ruthlessly pilloried the most heinous and ridiculous excesses of the regime of a certain Charles J Haughey, formerly of these parishes. The show was notable for skillfully skewering topical political idiocy, and featured prominently the wit and mimicry of the late Dermot Morgan (sadly gone from this world almost 10 years now!) and the not-in-the-least-late Pauline McGlynn, both of whom went on to great things on Craggy Island. (While I think of it, Father Ted co-creator Graham Linehan has an excellent new blog over here - well worth a visit for choice fillets of the festering corpulence that is internet video - check it!)

But I digress; Stembridge began the evening with a few vignettes and memories of his friendship with Enright down the years. He recalled, on Booker night itself, emerging from the shower in the mens locker room of his local gym and being confronted by a grandee in a tux mouthing the result on a silent TV as Enright was announced winner of the prize. As he put it, a one-off life experience, i.e. hearing your friend has won the booker while standing naked, dripping wet. Another memory recalled the time he saw a spotlit Enright, performing onstage in Dublin's Players Theatre several decades past, then rushing to Burgh Quay to submit his meagrely-paid review of the production to a certain desk editor by the name of Banville. Caught between booker-ends, as it were. He also spoke warmly of Enright’s generous and spontaneous support at a difficult period in his life – painting a picture of a warm, caring individual whose friendship was obviously highly treasured.

After these mellifluous introductions, The Author Herself took to the stage, receiving a prolonged and hearty welcome. Perhaps a little nervous initially, she soon settled into reading the opening chapter of The Gathering in fine style, followed by an even more compelling reading of her short story 'The Girl Died' from her forthcoming collection (available in March). It was immediately apparent how important the concept of ‘voice’ is to the success of Enright’s work. In this context, Enright’s own voice walks her characters right into the theatre and straight up to centre stage. I look forward to the new collection – it should be a treat!

Following another warm reception for her readings, Enright settled into her seat for some insightful quizzing by an obviously enthusiastic Stembridge. Both writers seemed to relish the occasion and the opportunity it presented. It could be that Enright was glad of a chance to address some of the misconceptions written about her in various wayward articles since her Booker win.

Much of the questioning centred on structural aspects of The Gathering itself, the Booker Prize awards night (apparently she didn’t bet on herself!) and more generally, Enright's working methodologies. Responding to a question about the size of the family in The Gathering, she recalled a comment of another friend, journalist Ann-Marie Hourihane, likening aspects of 1980s Ireland to an orphanage – where many siblings from these large families were left somewhat bereft, following the death of parents whose harried life’s work could, by material necessity, verge on emotional absence from their (too?) many offspring.

Interesting to hear too, how visual artists were to the fore as inspirations in the absence of a canon of pre-eminent women writers in the Irish literary tradition as her own writing developed. Artists such as Dorothy Cross, Alice Maher and Kathy Prendergast were mentioned as influences and it seems apt that such interrogative artists should be referenced by a writer whose own acts of creation are equally charged with robust questioning of their environs by her characters.

Finally, still another Banville-related comment which sticks in the memory is how, on meeting that writer following his own Booker win with The Sea, he told Enright how he originally didn’t believe that book was any good – not just to win awards, but that he was convinced his publishers would reject it for publication! Perhaps it was just that most Irish trait of false modesty, but I really can’t see Banville being self-deprecating purely for the sake of it. That meeting, of one past winner and one who would, took place aptly enough in an airport. Banville commented to Enright that post-Booker, life was lived in airports. It is to Enright’s credit, and the enjoyment of the Pavilion audience, that she spent last Tuesday in closer proximity to the ferry terminus in Dun Laoghaire – with presumably only a short trip back home to Bray!