Nell McDaragh never knew her grandfather, the celebrated Irish poet Phil McDaragh. But his love poems seem to speak directly to her. Restless and wryly self-assured, at twenty-two Nell leaves her mother Carmel’s orderly home to find her own voice as a writer (mostly online, ghost-blogging for an influencer) and to live a poetical life. As she chases obsessive love, damage, and transcendence, in Dublin and beyond, her grandfather’s poetry seems to guide her home.
Nell’s mother, Carmel McDaragh, knows the magic of her Daddo’s poetry too well–the kind of magic that makes women in their nighties slip outside for a kiss and then elope, as her mother Terry had done. In his poems to Carmel, Phil envisions his daughter as a bright-eyed wren ascending in escape from his hand. But it is Phil who departs, abandoning his wife and two young daughters. Carmel struggles to reconcile “the poet” with the father whose desertion scars her life, along with that of her fiercely dutiful sister and their gentle, cancer-ridden mother. To distance herself from this betrayal, Carmel turns inward, raising Nell, her daughter, and one trusted love, alone.
The Wren, the Wren brings to life three generations of McDaragh women who must contend with inheritances–of poetic wonder and of abandonment by a man who is lauded in public and carelessly selfish at home. Their other, stronger inheritance is a sustaining love that is “more than a strand of DNA, but a rope thrown from the past, a fat twisted rope, full of blood.” In sharp prose studded with crystalline poetry, Anne Enright masterfully braids a family story of longing, betrayal, and hope.