Anne Enright's astute eighth novel, The Wren, the Wren, traces the family legacies of talent and trauma through the generations descended from a famous Irish poet. Enright (The Forgotten Waltz) opens with Nell McDaragh, part of a "redundant generation" drifting through life after college. She writes posts for an online influencer and is in an on-again, off-again relationship with Felim. Aware of being the "last of the line" and fearing she's a disappointment, given the genetic gifts from her grandfather, celebrated lyric poet Phil McDaragh, she embarks on a round-the-world tour, writing a guide for fellow anxious travelers.
The novel switches between Nell's funny, self-deprecating narration and third-person vignettes about her mother, Carmel. She, too, has lived in the shadow of genius, her feelings toward her late father complicated by his leaving the family when she was 12. After Phil's death, Carmel ran a language school and became a single parent. The novel's title, also that of a poem Phil wrote for Carmel, centers the metaphor of a fragile, spirited creature. Examples of Phil's romanticized verse are dotted throughout; he also delivers a short first-person section idealizing his youth--a crush on his classmate Hanorah, serving as an altar boy, observing badger-baiting. He later exaggerated his hackneyed Irishness when he moved to the U.S. Cycles of abandonment and abuse characterize the McDaraghs. Enright convincingly pinpoints the narcissism and codependency behind their love-hate relationships ("our spiralling love--that doomed, glorious, ever-closer closeness") but compassionately posits the hope of restoration. --Rebecca Foster, freelance reviewer, proofreader and blogger at Bookish Beck