Etherized: Anne Enright in Conversation with Paige Reynolds

“There is a kind of moment of doom when you commit to a character. Because none of my characters are lovely.”

Our partner podcast Novel Dialogue invites a novelist and a literary critic to talk about novels from every angle: how we read them, write them, publish them, and remember them. This season’s signature question is: “What is the first book you remember loving?”

Anne Enright, writer, critic, Booker winner, kindly makes time for Irish literature maven Paige Reynolds and ND host John Plotz. She reads from The Wren, The Wren and discusses the “etherized” state of our inner lives as they circulate on social media. Anne says we don’t yet know if the web has become a space of exposure or of authority, but that the state of diffusion we all exist in is “pixilated”—though perhaps we can take comfort from the fact that “Jeff Bezos … is not as interested in your period as you might think.”

Anne speaks of “a moment of doom” when a writer simply commits to a character, unlovely as they may or must turn out to be. (Although The Wren, The Wren harbors one exception: “Terry is lovely.”) She also gently corrects one reviewer: her characters aren’t working class, they’re “just Irish.” Asked about teaching, Anne emphasizes giving students permission to write absolutely anything they want—while simultaneously “mortifying them … condemning them to absolute hell” by pointing out the need to engage in contemporary conversation. Students should aim for writing that mixes authority with carelessness. However, “to get to that state of carefree expression is very hard.”

Although tempted by Lewis Carroll and Kenneth Grahame, Anne has a clear winner when it comes to the signature question: A. A. Milne’s Now We are Six.




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View a transcript of the episode here. icon

Featured image from A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh, illustrated by E.H. Shepard, 1926.