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In praise of Maeve Brennan, by Anne Enright

Celebrating Irish women writers: ‘The line between holding it together and falling apart is thinner here than anywhere else in Irish fiction’

Maeve Brennan: Twinkling madness and the unsettling feeling of normality

She was rumoured to have spent her last days living in the ladies’ loo of the New Yorker. The first time I visited the magazine, in 1999, I went into the washroom and paused at the mirror for her ghost.

Maeve Brennan’s sentences have the rigour that the New Yorker requires: they feel, on the page, like sensible, well-structured things, but there, between one clause and the next, are tiny gaps where her future madness twinkles out at you.

What is it that is so unsettling? A feeling of anguish horribly muted, a shouting silence behind the description of carpets and coal fires; the daily round of middle-class Ranelagh, where her work is set.

Everything is normal in Ranelagh – apart from that woman hanging on to the railings on Eglinton Road because her son has deserted her for the priesthood. Normal. Normal. Normal.

The line between holding it together and falling apart is thinner here than anywhere else in Irish fiction.

Other favourites: Claire Keegan and Eimear McBride.

Anne Enright is the inaugural Laureate for Irish Fiction. She won the Man Booker Prize in 2007 for The Gathering