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One of the Wall Street Journal's 10 Best Books of 2020
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.