Anne Enright’s The Wren, The Wren is a literary tapestry whose beauty lies not in grand plot twists but in the nuances of words, emotions and relationships. Through the perspectives of several characters, the novel explores the complexities of family love, maternal love and abusive love, and the enduring impact of the past.
The Wren, The Wren centres on a mother-daughter duo, Nell and her mother Carmel, capturing the ebb and flow of their lives over a span of a year or two and looking back into their past. Carmel’s father, Phil, a renowned poet and philanderer, is a looming presence. His poems are interspersed throughout the novel. I know nothing about modern poetry, but they are clearly good; it’s a clever way to show both why he became such a lauded poet and why he has left such a complicated emotional legacy. Or to put it more crudely, how people were and continue to be fooled by his poetry and his artistic aura even though he was a shitty human being.
Enright’s skill in small observations and poetic set pieces is evident throughout, in scenes depicting the ordinariness of life, abusive relationships, the beauty of nature. It’s short, yet covers a broad emotional landscape.
Enright is undoubtedly highly intelligent and an incredibly skilled writer: so much so that it feels intimidating to even dare write a review of her work. She’s also witty and — in the best possible way — ordinary. She doesn’t throw her intelligence in your face! She doesn’t hold herself on some lofty plane above us mere mortals. Indeed, the poetry and often lyrical prose frequently crash down to earth with mundane descriptions of Nell lounging around watching endless random YouTube videos. Indeed, that’s how we live now, with our phones dragging us from the heights of sharp emotion to the mindnumbing uselessness of YouTube. It makes the novel readable and authentic and the characters relatable.
This is not a narrative of grand events but an exploration of the intricate threads that bind couples and families. Enright’s poetic prose, coupled with her astute observations, creates a novel that packs an emotional punch. If you love beautifully written novels, you’ll enjoy every word.
I’m not sure that I understand the book’s title. Other than that it is presented as a poem (presumably by Phil): ‘The Wren, The Wren, for Carmel’, a poem that, in my interpretation, points to hypocrisy: it reads as that of a loving father ‘letting go’ of his beloved daughter, when in fact he abandoned his wife and daughter. Birds are a recurrent presence in the novel; perhaps as a symbolic mirror of the novel’s theme of familial bonds transcending generations.
My thanks to Netgalley for giving me a free copy of this book. All my reviews are 100% honest and unbiased, regardless of how I acquire the book.
The Wren, The Wren is published by Jonathan Cape
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