Anne Enright, Natalie (New Yorker, Dec. 2007)

Following my earlier reflection about youth, I would like to mention a short story that I’ve found in the NewYorker website, and managed to read during my hectic last week. Sometimes a short story is just what you need to calm you down and give you something funnier and deeper to think about than, say, your fully-booked work schedule on top of money worries and baby planning. 

So, my first-ever brush with Booker Prize winner Anne Enright was “Natalie”, a first-person account by a teenaged girl from Dublin. It really captures the essence of being a teenager, something that I found slightly lacking in the Japanese anthology I just reviewed. 

I am going to be a writer when I grow up, and I am going to put it all down on the page—this tangle between Natalie and me, which is supposed to be about Billy’s mother, though I don’t think it is, really. Billy is Natalie’s boyfriend. I nearly went out with him once, but that was so long ago, and it wasn’t even a proper thing. Now he’s best friends with my boyfriend, who couldn’t care less, and neither could Natalie, so that isn’t what this is about, either.

I wake up in the middle of the night I am so upset. I mean, when I put down the phone I didn’t know what to think—Natalie is so polite, you could hardly call what we had a fight—but six hours later I’m lying with my eyes wide open, looking at what turns out to be the ceiling (duh!), wondering what terrible thought just woke me up. 

Natalie is the narrator’s best friend; she’s as confident, beautiful and superior as the narrator is insecure. The narrator talks mainly about her, but we get to learn a lot more about herself. She gropes her way in the dark to understand other people’s feelings. She plays things out in her mind and stumbles on the real events. Events seem to happen too fast for her, yet what’s upsets her is often very brief moments that an adult would not care about. I’d forgotten how tiny things get out of proportion when you’re a teenager. At the same time, an adult close to her is going through cancer and the narrator tries to remain cool and come to grips with that fact, but she really doesn’t. You really feel the sense of loss that comes inevitably with growing up, I guess.

I liked the voice, even though I’m not sure I would follow such a story if it were a full novel. Yet, as an introduction to Anne Enright’s work, it worked perfectly! I hope to find some other short stories by her in the near future. Do you have any recommendation?

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