‘Caravan’ by Anne Enright

I read this story at a time when my children were of a similar age to the two children of the woman whose internal monologue carries it. ‘Caravan’ arrested me in an almost physical way. It was a kind of shock to me that a short story could capture so absolutely the push-pull and escaped-trapped feel of a family holiday with small children on a campsite in France.

There is much about this story that rang painfully true to me then, but still even now. It made we wince at the ordinary ache of it all. I have never forgotten the image it produced in my mind of Michelle backing out the door of their flimsy, temporary accommodation, cleaning cloth in hand, on their departure at the end. ‘Caravan’ has stayed with me from the moment I first finished it, and it lives on in my head.

First published in The Guardian, October 2007, and available to read online here; collected in Taking Pictures, Jonathan Cape, 2008

‘Until the Girl Died’ by Anne Enright

Anne Enright is unmatched when it comes to writing anger and forgiveness and getting on with things and the triumph of the everyday. In this story, a woman’s husband has been having an affair, as he has done several times before, each time returning home contrite and armed with suggestions for a weekend away. This time, however, the girl in question died in a car accident. The man is stunned, chiefly by his own ageing, while his wife is left to reassure the girl’s grave that she mattered to him.

The story shows how complicated ordinary life is. How savage, how careless we are with one another when we think we are invincible. How much we can hurt others in the pursuit of what we think we deserve. With typical Enright acerbity, the woman says, “It’s the great mystery, isn’t it? What men ‘want’. And the damage they might do to get it.”

It is possible to live and to love someone from within that crack between generosity and vengeance, the story tells us. Time may not heal, exactly, but it passes and we run out of steam, which can amount to the same thing. “How did we get through the next week?” the woman asks. “Normally, at a guess. We got through the week in a completely normal way.”

First published in Taking Pictures, Jonathan Cape, 2008. Also available in Yesterday’s Weather, Vintage, 2009

‘Here’s to Love’ by Anne Enright

I would like to be Anne Enright when I grow up, but I fear I may have missed my window. I love her sentences and perspicacity. I think she’s a short form artist really – her novels fall into segments, like oranges, and her essays are marvellous. ‘Here’s to Love’encapsulates many of the things I love best: the sharp dialogue, the unaffected, apparently artless structure, the gripping characters, the wit, and that pragmatic optimism which is also in the non-fiction.

“I still walk down the street most evenings. And every time I do this, I think about a bullet in the back – about the fact that most of the time, it does not happen to me,” says the protagonist: another mantra for me.

First published in The Guardian, December 2007 and collected in Taking Pictures (Jonathan Cape, 2008)