In case you didn’t get to see Anne Enright, you missed a treat; it’s not often you get to hear one of the most ‘achingly brilliant, mesmerising, candid, reckless and witty’ writers read their work. As always, she was brilliant. But as a kind of compensation, here’s a peek at the audience question and answer section…
I loved the book – it was just beautiful – but by the time I got to the end. I was wondering, does Gina regret the affair?
What is the meaning of the word regret…? You don’t get a chance to live your live again so regret is a funny word to me. There’s a sense in the book that Gina couldn’t do anything other than have the affair. And they didn’t mean to do it; they always lumbered through it. She does love Sean very strongly but she doesn’t have a choice; she has her doubts whether she loves the right person so what else can you do? She doesn’t know what else to do.
I loved the way economics and love intertwined…I wonder whether that’s what started you off with the book – was it the economic context?
I wouldn’t work politically – I might in my life with my thoughts and vote etc – but when I’m writing fiction I try and strip back what people say about their lives. Politics is a way of doing this; I want to get to the most primary place possible. I want to get to the facts of it. Part of my job is deconstructing. In those days, in Ireland, the boom was in everybody’s kitchen, walls; it was in the fabric of our lives. It was inescapably there, the idea of value flowing through the books and mortar of our properties. There’s an ambient sense of we’re all in it…and now we’re all paying for it. (I’m not sure of anyone has any opinions on that!) It was hard to avoid. When it comes to the character of Fiona, I’m not going to laugh at people for not having money but I’m not going to laugh at people who have money either. I resisted the urge to satirise that element.
In The Forgotten Walls, I’m reading a passage about Sycomore from Brown Thomas – I was wondering, do you like Sycomore?
I love trying those perfumes; they’re €200 a bottle so you’re not going to take them home! The mother in this book starts off with Tweed from Este Laude – the smell of the mother is quite a return. So part of the secret coding in the book for me is the woody scent that the mother likes. It’s a range of scents called chypres. I find Sycomore a bit woody for me but it fit with the character. Being chased away by some of these fabulous-looking Brown Thomas chicks, they asked if they could help me – but the stuff’s €200! – so they took one look at me and said “ah, you’re just refreshing yourself.”
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Write what you know; my mother said it to me then she read my first book and said how do you know that? I think we know an awful lot more than we say so I’m interested in writing things that people sometimes don’t let themselves say. Or even know. The nice thing is very pervasive; I see the social pressure to be nice is amazing. I think niceness is a bit of a burden.
The descriptions of the girls and puberty – can you tell us what that was about?
what was puberty about? I’ve still not figured that one out! People are extremely anxious about the young girls in puberty. It’s a lot to do about early puberty and the fact that they will have sex. The reduction in the age of puberty across Europe is a bit of a worry; girls are having gusts of hormones when they stop having their tantrums (that’s if we ever do stop having tantrums). That fear and anxiety interested me; I put that aspect in deliberately and was important to the book, the writing of the book; it’s about unchartered sexual desire. I found it interesting and it seems to be true to how we’re living now as well as Gina’s mindset.
Can you talk about Gina’s relationship with her mother?
Mothers are really hard to write; in the Gathering, the mother was pregnant all the time. I just thought if I was pregnant all the time I wouldn’t be fantastic. She was a counter to the idea of the Irish mammy. She was bludgeoned by it. It was easy to write her as an absent mother, even when there. This mother is a totally different mother, the idea of a mother as friend. So when she dies, life becomes much less of a game for her daughter and much more real. I like the glamour of her. She was a likeable, if slightly narcissistic character, but a dashing woman.