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Anne Enright: ‘A book is still a hidden thing’

Hugh Chaloner/photo illustration by the globe and mail

Anne Enright is the author of one book of non-fiction, three collections of short stories and six novels, including The Gathering, which won the Man Booker Prize in 2007. Her most recent novel, The Green Road, was published last month by McClelland & Stewart; writing in the Globe and Mail, Lisa Moore called it "a complex and beautiful portrayal of a family." Enright, who was born and lives in Dublin, was named the inaugural Laureate for Irish Fiction earlier this year.

Why did you write your new book?

Every three or four years, I find myself writing a novel. I mean, I am always sitting at the desk, always writing, non-fiction, e-mails, speeches, questionnaires about my favourite this or my favourite that. I have no favourite anything, I want to say. This is not how I organize my life, my mind or my personality. I am not eight years old. And, in fact, although I am pretty sure I have a personality, I am never entirely sure about my "self," that essential "I" who might say "Oh that's my FAVOURITE book, and look the cover is in my FAVOURITE colour, and it is set in my FAVOURITE part of the world." (Meaning, Alice, of course, and blue, and Canada. Though some days, there is a shade of lilac for which I pine and whole weeks where I would not want to discount yellow). Anyhow, every three or four years I find myself fooling with a book, and I realize how much my life has changed since the last time I fooled with a book: my circumstances, the way I love people and the people I love are all different, now. I have changed. And as I sit there, I wonder, "What is the question, now?" Because each book is an attempt to formulate a new question, and it is not until the book is finished you can say what that question is. For The Green Road, it went something like, "Who are we, when we are alone?" It was a question about loneliness and love, about disconnection and compassion. And this is why I wrote the book – to discover what my life was asking me, now.

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What's the best advice you've ever received?

Marry a good man.

What question do you wish people would ask about your work (that they don't ask)?

The day after the Man Booker Prize in 2007, I did 38 interviews. I had just published a book dealing with suicide and sexual abuse and 38 journalists asked me about success and failure. Through every type and style of question in the years that followed – aggressive, intrusive, toxic, complicit, envious, sympathetic, admiring, intelligent, insightful, sweet – not one person asked me about suicide, though there were general, social questions about the discovery of sexual abuse scandals in Ireland. Ninety per cent of my interviewers asked about prizes. And actually, this suits me fine. There are things that cannot be discussed; can only be done through fiction, and on the page. A book is still a hidden thing. A real book, I mean.

What's your favourite word to use in a sentence, and why?

Oh, behave.

What scares you as a writer, and why?

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Very little.

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