Today’s online version of the New York Times prominently featured a picture of Irish writer Anne Enright. It accompanies an article discussing how Enright’s Booker victory stoked up a bit of storm in a teacup over an article she had written in the London Review of Books about the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. The centre of this little media typhoon was Enright’s candour in admitting she had “disliked the McCanns [Madeline's parents, Kate and Gerry] earlier than most people.”
Most Irish commentators argued that the sudden scrutiny of Enright’s article was a typical example of British journalism’s attack-dog mentality: A new figure has been thrust onto the public stage–how can we drag her down?
The New York Times piece seems to follow the same thinking, suggesting the furore was based an a selective and uniformed reading of the LRB piece:
“[W]hile she did not want to be drawn into a longer discussion, what seemed clear was that the essay was of a piece with all of her writing: a subtle and not-easy-to-summarize examination of intricate emotions that sometimes contradict one another.”
But having read the article the other day, fully and in context, I have to say it’s one of the oddest pieces of journalism I have come across. What I was particularly struck by was how close Enright’s journalistic voice is to that of Veronica, the angst-ridden narrator of The Gathering. But while it is an accepted, indeed almost obligatory, trope for a fictional character to interpret the world in ways that make the reader uneasy about the narrator’s mental state, how is one to react when the “real,” non-fiction version of a writer seems to write in the same, unsettling vein?
Throughout the LRB article, I stumbled over sentences that made me wince at how willing Enright was to chronicle unattractive actions and expose her most uncharitable instincts.
For example, does the use of the word “hallelujah” strike you as magnificently inappropriate in the context of the following sentence?
In August, the sudden conviction that the McCanns 'did it' swept over our own family holiday in a peculiar hallelujah.”
And would you be happy if your husband or wife decided to share with the world a grimy speculation that may have been made without thinking?
During the white heat of media allegations against Madeleine's parents, my husband came up the stairs to say that they'd all been wife-swapping – that was why the other diners corroborated the McCanns' account of the evening. This, while I was busy measuring the distance from the McCanns' holiday apartment down the road to the church on Google Earth (0.2 miles). I said they couldn't have been wife-swapping, because one of the wives had brought her mother along.
'Hmmmm,' he said.
Finally, at what point does honesty about unhealthy fascination start to creep out the reader? The next sentence did it for me:
I, for example, search for interviews with them, late at night, on YouTube. There is so much rumour; I listen to their words because they are real, because these words actually did happen, one after the other…
Poring over YouTube interviews with the McCanns late at night? Yuck.
Isn’t there something to be said, even in this age of compulsive self-revelation, for keeping things to yourself? In the end, as with almost all “confessional journalism” the LRB article casts little light on its supposed object of inquiry, but tells us far more than we wanted to know about the subject pecking away at the keyboard.