Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Actress” as Want to Read:
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview


3.48  ·  Rating details ·  3,814 ratings  ·  651 reviews
This is the story of Irish theatre legend, Katherine O’Dell, as written by her daughter Norah. It tells of early stardom in Hollywood, of highs and lows on the stages of Dublin and London’s West End. Katherine’s life is a grand performance, with young Norah watching from the wings.

But this romance between mother and daughter cannot survive Katherine’s past, or the world’s
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published February 20th 2020 by Jonathan Cape
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Actress, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Richard Dearden Did you end up reading it? It is a beautiful story. The characters are built up through the novel - it is very "real life" - I kept believing it was a…moreDid you end up reading it? It is a beautiful story. The characters are built up through the novel - it is very "real life" - I kept believing it was a memoir. It is as much about the mother as a woman, an actress and a sheer individual, as it is about the daughter, who narrates. The accounts of what it is to act, to be on stage, to survive are essential to the story. .... oh it is extremely well written - don't know about "literary".

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.48  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,814 ratings  ·  651 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Actress
Actress by Anne Enright is a 2020 W.W. Norton Company publication.

This is my first book by Anne Enright. I thought the premise sounded like something I might like, partly because of the of the old Hollywood angle and the hint of scandal.

While the book paints a bleak and very un-glamorous picture of how women are used- chewed up and spat out- in Hollywood, this novel is more of an examination of a mother/daughter dynamic which was mired in the myth of celebrity, marred by scandal, and finally r
Anne Bogel
Sep 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Five solid stars specifically for the narrator's voice + the audiobook performance by author Anne Enright, the combination of those two factors made for an incredible listening experience; I don't think I would have enjoyed the print version nearly as much.

Speaking of the print version: I had it checked out of the library for SIX MONTHS (due to COVID-19 closures), returned it unread, and only then downloaded the audiobook after a reading friend told me it was fabulous in that format. (She was r
Peter Boyle
I have a love-hate relationship with the work of Anne Enright. I would consider The Green Road one of the finest Irish novels of the 21st century. But I felt nothing for The Gathering or The Forgotten Waltz, despite the adulation and awards they received. And I'm sorry to say that Actress falls into the latter category.

The story is narrated by Norah, daughter of the legendary Katherine O'Dell, a flame-haired star of stage and screen. Now a middle-aged writer, she reminisces about growing up as t
Ron Charles
Feb 25, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels-about-art
Anne Enright writes so well that she just might ruin you for anyone else. The deceptively casual flow of her stories belies their craft, a profound intelligence sealed invisibly behind life’s mirror. Over the course of seven novels, this first laureate of Irish fiction has won the Booker Prize — for “The Gathering” in 2007 — and won readers around the world.

Her new novel, “Actress,” explores a mother-daughter relationship burdened by fame. The narrator is a novelist named Norah recalling the tum
I did not expect to love this as much as I did. I often struggle with historical fiction and I have tried to read Enright before but found her endlessly bleak – this book is the opposite of that. I found it clever and funny and absolutely incredibly well-written. The latter was probably to be expected – there is a reason Enright is one of the Great Writers of our time. I listened to the audiobook which she reads herself and this was such a genius thing to do – her narration is pitchperfect and w ...more
Apr 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2020, modern-lit
Longlisted for the Women's Prize 2020

One of Enright's more enjoyable novels, this is a tale of mothers and daughters. The daughter Norah is the narrator, looking back in late middle age, and the mother, now long dead and once a famous actress, is Katherine O'Dell. The two women's stories get roughly even amounts of the book.

Enright's account has the right blend of nostalgia and hard reality - the parts of the book that describe Katherine's childhood in a travelling theatre that tours Ireland ar
My first Anne Enright novel didn't disappoint.

Actress is about a mother-daughter relationship, told by the daughter. Now older than when her mother died, Norah is reminiscing about her peculiar childhood, as the only child of the famous Irish actress, Katherine O’Dell. Isn't it interesting how the older we get the more sympathetic, understanding we are towards our parents? Having our own kids, relationships allow us to see our parents in a different light. Enright balanced the narrative between
Eric Anderson
Mar 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I have a special fondness for novels that are about actresses/actors. Two of my favourite books are Joyce Carol Oates’ “Blonde” about the actress Norma Jean Baker who becomes the persona Marilyn Monroe and Susan Sontag’s “In America” about the Polish actress Helena Modjeska who helped found a utopian community in the late 1800s. I even wrote my MA dissertation on these novels and how both writers explore the borders between identity and performance in their stories. I also have a love for Anne E ...more
Jennifer (Insert Lit Pun)
My favorite contemporary novel I've read so far this year (more comments to come in a video soon) ...more
Nov 03, 2020 rated it liked it
I was only going to give this book 2 stars truth be told…I was so disappointed in it because I wanted to like it (obviously). I have several books of Enright’s including her Man Booker Prize-winning novel, The Gathering. For the first 200 pages of the 264-page book I was bored and disappointed. But then there were some unexpected events in the last 50 pages or so of the novel that were relayed to the reader in the first person by Norah, who was daughter of Katherine O’ Dell, “the actress”. As we ...more
“Actress” is a story about a daughter delving into the history of her famous actress mother. As Norah, the daughter, narrates the story, the reader is provided with a woman’s study of the female work and sexual struggle from early Hollywood era to current times. But it’s more than that, it’s a powerful story of a mother and daughter, and the fraught relationship when the mother is a narcistic creative person touched with mental health issues. As Norah’s story reveals, it’s difficult being a daug ...more
Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer
Among the images of my mother that exist online is a black-and-white photograph of me, watching her from the wings. I am four or five years of age, and sitting on a stool, in a little matinee coat and a bowl haircut. Beyond me, Katherine O’Dell performs to the unseen crowd. She is dressed in a glittering dark gown, you can not see the edge so her or the shape her figure makes, just the slice of cheekbone, the line of her chin. Her hands are uplifted.

Longlisted for the Women’s Prize.

Anne Enri
Nov 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I’ve been reading entirely too much genre fiction and not even the best of it, so a palate cleanser was due and nothing does the trick quite like a work of proper literature. It may sound pretentious, but you know when you’re in a presence of literary greatness, you just do. You don’t even have to love the plot, you can still appreciate the sheer beauty of language. Somehow I’ve never read the author, though she is quite well known and even an Booker recognized. Well, Actress was a terrific intr ...more
Erin Glover
The writing is amazing. Enright knows how to craft a sentence. That’s the only reason I finished the book. Because the story was, well, boring. I kept waiting for something to happen but nothing ever did. I get that in literary fiction we’re looking for character transformation and it’s not all about plot, but the character transformation of the actress’s younger daughter just wasn’t amazing. Norah writes the story to her several decades-long husband but I just didn’t get it. So her mother was e ...more
Karen Witzler
Very good complex writing. ~~~ A week has passed and I keep thinking of this book.

I read it because it was on the Women's Prize Longlist - I was expecting middle-of-the-road literary fiction, but this is a substantive and beautifully written work that could have been on the Shortlist - and I would not have cried "Foul" had it won.

The story of the actress/mother and the writer/daughter is told in a non-linear fashion, giving it the quality of memory and constant reassessment through time. Quite e
Jul 07, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars.

How well do we really know our parents? As children we naturally see them as heroic, almost mythic creatures, in their role as caregivers. They can do anything simply because we’ve relied upon them to do everything. Yet there’s a lot we don’t take into consideration when it comes to our parental figures. At least not until we become adults – better still, parents – ourselves. Who are they? What makes them tick?

I still question how much I truly know about my parents. Not so much the br
Mar 22, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5, rounded down.

This is my third Enright novel (the others being her Booker-winning The Gathering and Booker-nominated The Green Road), and even though the writing remains every bit as good as in those, I just found this rather pedestrian and lacking - which is odd, since theatre is my field/forte. And perhaps my disenchantment is that there wasn't more made of the titular character's career - it is cursorily laid out, but much more is made of her daughter's (the narrator of the book) life and
Mar 05, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
DNF 32%

Great writer marking time.
Apr 27, 2020 marked it as on-hold  ·  review of another edition
So here's the deal: I read maybe 50 pages of this, was LOVING it, had to put it down for a while because I had like six library holds come in that I had to read more urgently, and now it's been over a month since I've touched Actress and I'm at a weird place where I'm not in the mood to pick it back up where I left off but it's too soon to start it over.  I'll revisit in a couple of months!  ...more
Jan 14, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
I received this book through Goodreads First Reads.

I think this book had a lot of potential with it being about a daughter searching for the truth about her mother. I think the issue was the story became too muddled, almost bordering on becoming confusing, at times, when the story shifted from past to present. Overall, it was a good effort but something I had a hard time staying interested in.
Among the images of my mother that exist online is a black-and-white photograph of me, watching her from the wings. I am four or five years of age, and sitting on a stool, in a little matinee coat and a bowl haircut. Beyond me, Katherine O’Dell performs to the unseen crowd. She is dressed in a glittering dark gown, you can not see the edges of her, or the shape her figure makes, just the slice of her cheekbone, the line of her chin. Her hands are uplifted.

The actress of the title is Katherine O
Mar 08, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I usually like Enright but I really didn’t on with this one. I found it boring and difficult to follow in some places. Just not for me.
The Green Road is among my most memorable reads of the past five years, so I was eagerly awaiting Enright’s new novel, which is on the Women’s Prize longlist. I read the first 30 pages and found I wasn’t warming to the voice or main characters. Norah is a novelist who, prompted by an interviewer, realizes the story she most needs to tell is her mother’s. Katherine O’Dell was “a great fake,” an actress who came to epitomize Irishness even though she was actually English. Her slow-burning backstor ...more
Stay Fetters
“… the war was won and it was all marvelous. The town was full of men. Pleasance wore diamante bracelets over white evening gloves and kept her cigarette holder angled high. Hunger kept them slim.”

DNF @ 50 pages

After reading the synopsis, I thought one of two things was going to happen and I realize now that those two things are huge shoes to fill. I thought that I was going to find another Irish author to gush over like I do with Sally Rooney or find an old Hollywood book that could hold a can
Apr 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Update: Sunday 31st May 2020

I’ve just watched Anne Enright’s informative interview with Peter Florence on the the Hay Festival Crowd Cast Event and am now going to have to re-read the novel, enlightened by the discussion.

Original review:

I can't possibly give a novel by Anne Enright anything less than 5 stars because of her well-deservedly renowned prose and 'beautiful sentences'.
In this particular novel, those sentences sadly do not recompense for my lack interest in the main subject matter -
I received a copy of this book in a Goodreads giveaway.

This is the second book by this author I've tried to read, and there is something about her writing style that turns me off almost immediately. Everything feels like one giant run-on sentence. Her books are wordy without ever really saying much of anything. This one left me cold from the very start, and it didn't take me more than half an hour to give up.
Apr 02, 2020 rated it liked it
Anne Enright is an author who I’ve never really liked. I disliked her Man Booker winner, The Gathering. I thought the Green Road was pretty good in places but it felt episodic and now Actress.

I will admit this is the first time I felt an Anne Enright book to feel complete. It’s well structured. All the themes fit into place, there’s some terrific symbolism and it’s time jumping narrative works well.

The book is about a fictional theatre star called Katherine ODell. The book chronicles her rise an
Nov 23, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio-books
Listening to Anne Enright herself narrate this book isn’t enough to keep me reading. I’m about half was through it and am dreading it. I’m not interested in these cringe-worthy details of Norah’s life. It’s one thing to read a story about one’s first sexual experience, it’s quite another to listen to someone I don’t know share intimate details. Maybe if it was a story about an actual person?

I love Enright’s other books! What are you like and The Gathering are amazing.
M. (Inside My Library Mind)
More reviews up on my blog Inside My Library Mind

Actual rating: 2.5 stars

She was always looking at the edges of things.

This book’s biggest downfall was probably my wrong expectations going into this book. I expected a story that is an exploration of a relationship between a mother and a daughter. But this book wasn’t that, not really. This book is mostly Norah remembering scenes from her life, that are related to her mother, but that were also important for Norah as a person, as she
Jun 25, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a book in two parts - for me. The first half was compelling and continually opened new doors, revealing fragments of Katherine’s life and the mystery of Nora’s paternity. Suddenly, just after the half way mark the circling and revisiting of events occurred frequently but the revelation of new information slowed considerably. While the final chapters and conclusion were satisfactory I think a chunk of the second half did not add value to the plot or the characters. The writing is provoca ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
The Mookse and th...: 2020 Women's Prize Longlist: Actress 22 72 Aug 14, 2020 03:31AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • Hum If You Don’t Know the Words
  • Lady in the Lake
  • No Tomorrow (Killing Eve, #2)
  • Widma w mieście Breslau
  • The Indigo Girl
  • Necessary People
  • Oona Out of Order
  • How Could She
  • The Hidden Thread
  • All This Could Be Yours
  • The Burning Chambers (Burning Chambers #1)
  • Autopsy of a Boring Wife
  • The Night Watch
  • Get the Meeting!
  • The Lying Room
  • Disappearing Earth
  • Razzle Dazzle: The Battle for Broadway
  • Kudos
See similar books…
Anne Enright was born in Dublin, where she now lives and works. She has published three volumes of stories, one book of nonfiction, and five novels. In 2015, she was named the inaugural Laureate for Irish Fiction. Her novel The Gathering won the Man Booker Prize, and The Forgotten Waltz won the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.

Related Articles

What will you do when it's your turn to pick your book club's next read? Well, this is what you won't do: panic. Why not? Because we've dug...
148 likes · 25 comments
No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »
“If you think about it, the youngest part of the tree is in the very middle. It is the little dot that will widen into a ring, next year. The youngest part of any tree is the heart.” 2 likes
“Just the way all mothers are crazy to their daughters, all mothers are wrong.” 1 likes
More quotes…