Irish Author Anne Enright on Her Literary Upbringing

Anne Enright with her family on the grounds of her school, on the day of her First Holy Communion in 1969.
Anne Enright with her family on the grounds of her school, on the day of her First Holy Communion in 1969. PHOTO: ANNE ENRIGHT

Wallpaper was big in my family’s house in the late 1960s and early ’70s. Growing up, we had many different patterns over time. My eyes constantly searched for the differences and similarities in the prints and where exactly they began to repeat.

Our house was a bungalow in an area just south of Dublin that’s tucked away between all those lines on the map. It’s hard to say exactly what the area is called. When my parents moved there in 1952, the community thought of it as the new suburbs. Now it’s considered “close to town.”

I’m the youngest of five children. I have two brothers and two sisters, and how they treated me depends on the decade. I was both doted on and persecuted for the first 10 years of my life. I was kind of the plaything and the amazing thing. These days, we’re all very tight.

My parents still live in the house, and the five of us are regular visitors there. It’s a semi-detached house with a garden in the back and front. We had three bedrooms, two windows and a porch with a sliding glass door. There were 27 families on our road when I grew up there in the late ‘60s. All had moved in at the same time, and all the women had their babies at the same time. It’s an interesting enclave. You hear about people and bump into people, and it’s just a little miniature of difference and similarity.

I shared a bedroom with my two sisters. We had blue-flowered wallpaper, which was captivating to me. I’d look for the patterns within the larger pattern, and the wallpaper would evoke so much. I slept surrounded by this stuff for 12 years. If you looked long enough, the flowers changed into other things. I’d wake up and lie there, making stories out of it all. A pattern can be a bit mad and paranoid for a writer, but I enjoyed it all as a child. You could lose yourself staring at them.

My father, Donal, made a lot of our furniture, and it still looks good. He is retired now from the civil service, which was considered a wonderful job then. He worked in the tax commissioner’s office. My mother, Cora, was in the civil service, too, when they met. But women were not allowed to keep their jobs after marriage.

Though father had a good job, we didn’t have much cash. This was in the 1970s, when much of Ireland was a really poor place. A good job didn’t mean all that much in terms of money. My father is a gentle person and he doted on us. I suppose my mother felt the stress of having five children but, like many Irish mothers, her children were her whole life.

Home was a creative place. My father loves words and puns and puzzles and games. You’d have to justify whatever you had to say, and you wouldn’t get away with an untested statement.

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