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The story of the legendary Irish actress Katherine O'Dell as told by her daughter. This novel is smart, sympathetic, and casts the kind of spell one imagines the mythical O'Dell would have cast had she been a real person.— Ann
One of Time's 100 Must-Read Books of 2020
A Washington Post Notable Work of Fiction in 2020
Longlisted for the 2020 Women's Prize for Fiction
A brilliant and moving novel about celebrity, sexual power, and a daughter’s search to understand her mother’s hidden truths.
Katherine O’Dell is an Irish theater legend. As her daughter, Norah, retraces her mother’s celebrated career and bohemian life, she delves into long-kept secrets, both her mother’s and her own. Katherine began her career on Ireland’s bus-and-truck circuit before making it to London’s West End, Broadway, and finally Hollywood. Every moment of her life is a performance, with young Norah standing in the wings. But the mother-daughter romance cannot survive Katherine’s past or the world’s damage. With age, alcohol, and dimming stardom, Katherine’s grip on reality grows fitful. Fueled by a proud and long-simmering rage, she commits a bizarre crime.
As Norah’s role gradually changes to Katherine’s protector, caregiver, and finally legacy-keeper, she revisits her mother’s life of fiercely kept secrets; and Norah reveals in turn the secrets of her own sexual and emotional coming-of-age story. Her narrative is shaped by three braided searches—for her father’s identity; for her mother’s motive in donning a Chanel suit one morning and shooting a TV producer in the foot; and her own search for a husband, family, and work she loves.
Bringing to life two generations of women with difficult sexual histories, both assaulted and silenced, both finding—or failing to find—their powers of recovery, Actress touches a raw and timely nerve. With virtuosic storytelling and in prose at turns lyrical and knife-sharp, Enright takes readers to the heart of the maddening yet tender love that binds a mother and daughter.