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Anne Enright was spot on about McCann mania

By Sam Leith
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 22/10/2007

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Anne Enright may by now be wishing she had never even heard of the Man Booker prize. Less than a week after her novel The Gathering was named the winner, she found herself held up for scorn on front pages across the land.

This was not, for a change, because of the merits of her novel. People have for the most part been rather nice about that. Rather, the excitement centres on a piece she wrote a bit over a fortnight ago for the London Review of Books about the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.


She decided against allowing any newspapers to reprint the piece. It was therefore attended to in the news pages, where, through selective quotation, it was reduced in précis to the exciting-sounding "Booker Winner Slams McCanns", or, even better, "Why I Hate the McCanns". It was, typically, accompanied by a picture of Ms Enright looking expensively dressed and truculent.

I think Ms Enright has been rather ill-served by the newspapers – this one, I regret to say, among them. Whether out of mischief, or laziness, or haste, the entire point of her article has been misconstrued.

What she was writing about – as anyone who reads the original article will see – was her own responses. She was using them, and her amused horror at them, to talk about the wider way the public has responded to the case.

It was not an attack on the McCanns. It was a subtle, humane, and darkly funny essay about self-examination, second thoughts and the ugliness and presumption of the way in which our national obsession with the McCanns makes us feel entitled to praise or condemn, like or dislike, these people whom we have never met, and about whom we know next to nothing.

The case, she wrote, "makes harridans of us all". "Distancing yourself from the McCanns is a recent but potent form of magic and disliking the McCanns is an international sport." She added: "I disliked the McCanns earlier than most people (I'm not proud of it)." "Who needs a cadaver dog," she reproached herself, "when you have me?"

Self-reproach is the appropriate response, but self-reproach is also a bit of a fun-spoiler. It shoots the fox. Now that she's a snooty prize-winning author, reproaching Enright is regarded as the prerogative of the general public and its representatives in the press.

Quoted in some quarters, but with its significance ignored, was the last line of the piece: "Then I go to bed and wake up the next day, human again, liking the McCanns." Let's wake up, human again, ourselves, liking Anne Enright.

At a family wedding this weekend, my brother Jack falls into conversation with the lady next door to him. They're talking about this and that, making small talk, and she asks him politely about his love life. He shrugs and confesses that he's single.

"I'm a lonely soldier. I haven't had a girlfriend for a bit, actually," he says, adding by way of supplementary interest, "and my last girlfriend, weirdly enough, was my cousin." Then, he thinks, uh-oh, maybe that sounds too weird.

"She's my second cousin, though," he adds. "So it wasn't properly weird. She's not, like, my first cousin."

"Oh," says the lady, pointing across the room. "That's my first cousin over there."

"Really?" says Jack.

"Yes. He's my husband and the father of my six children."

As Jack, having fled the scene, later asks ruefully: "What are the chances of that?"

After the rugby, my South African-born father pointed out something peculiar. As the teams passed along the prize-giving line-up of dignitaries after the match, three of the England players managed to walk straight past Thabo Mbeki without shaking his hand.

Did they think he was there to serve the drinks?

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Well, Mbeki hasn't exactly been taking the lead on Zimbabwe has he? I wouldn't shake his hand either. Nelson Mandela he ain't. And have you seen who's going to be the next President? My God.
Posted by dc on October 22, 2007 11:15 PM
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"What? Yet another lunatic posting protests against posting; using free speech to call for an end to free speech? "

No, just one person criticising this incessantly stupid gossip about what is essentially nothing.

What, yet another person posting vacuous stuff about an irrelevant issue on which, incidentally, I will say something substantially more than vacuous: there is a clear demarcation between hate speech, bigot speech, and intolerant my-way speech, and FREE SPEECH. They are not the same things, don't confuse them.

Posted by Joe on October 22, 2007 10:46 PM
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Well said Rob U: "You patronizing assumption that we do not understand Enright's subtle self-examination misses the point: at the present time this 'darkly witty' process should take place in private. She can talk to herself for as long she wants but she cannot speak for 'us'.

"It was an attack on the McCanns. It had no subtlety, it was not humane, and it was a dark (not funny)essay about people she does not even know.In the article, published a fortnight ago, Enright wrote: "In August, the sudden conviction that the McCanns 'did it' swept over our own family holiday in a peculiar hallelujah. "Hallelujah" so they rejoy because they have made them suspects or believed to have "done it". Who gave her the rights to express such sensitive issues to the public and on our behalf. She had also those thoughts 6 months ago, why she didn't write her article at that time? I suppose we all know the answer to that: she wouldn't have won the prize! She has abused her position. Whether they are guilty or not, nothing gave her the rights to publish such an article.
Posted by Aline, London on October 22, 2007 10:45 PM
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Just_shut_up on this ridiculous-gossip subject.

Just_shut_up on this ridiculous-gossip subject.
Posted by Joe on October 22, 2007 9:51 PM

What? Yet another lunatic posting protests against posting; using free speech to call for an end to free speech?

Or is it from Sam, Louise and Anne?
Posted by Rob U on October 22, 2007 10:31 PM
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I don't think it matters how true or not Enright's article was, or what her intentions really were. The point is that the article was insensitive and uncalled for in light of the grief and suffering of the McCanns. To her credit though, Enright has expressed regret over the matter.
Posted by Simon Cameron on October 22, 2007 10:20 PM
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Finally! A reality check that is spot on about Ms. Enright. Glad I'm not the only one who actually READ the piece she wrote.
Posted by Angharod on October 22, 2007 10:14 PM
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Just_shut_up on this ridiculous-gossip subject.

Posted by Joe on October 22, 2007 9:51 PM
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'three of the England players managed to walk straight past Thabo Mbeki without shaking his hand'. Well they had just lost the Rugby World Cup Final and who would feel like shaking hands with any politician. What were they doing there anyway and if it was to be heads of state why was Brown there? I understand that the Princess Royal was there representing the Queen so she should have replaced Brown. I am sure as an Olympic sportswoman she would have had something more relevant to say than that trio.
Posted by Rural Idiot on October 22, 2007 8:29 PM
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I actually read the Enright original piece and I think she was both direct and interesting. For those who didn't and only watched the "highlights", her real focus was not upon the McCanns but upon the "media persona" created around them, her reactions to that and, nothing to do with them. The questions she raises or "poses" are not to do with Gerry and Kate, they are to do with us, the watchers and prurient "gobblers" of anything the tabloids put out.

She wrote this before Mann Booker and as someone of Anglo/Irish background, when I looked at her 'synopsis' prior to that, my best wish was for her never to win so at least I could be preserved from some demented relative of mine buying me her bloody boring book about dysfunctional Irish families sod it I've lived it !

However I bought her book myself following her bit on the McCann's and the reason ? She demands a searing truth of herself, for once in my life I might well respect a Committee for their judgement in their award.
Posted by John Haynes on October 22, 2007 7:27 PM
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Nonsense. It is your own industry that has been responsible for the thronging, rubbernecks. Enright is a sourpuss who states the obvious. The McCanns are pobably confused and mired by their agony and guilt. They made a mistake, of that there can be no doubt, who hasn't. This country is brimming with awful parents. Talk to the parents of the 'stoning killers'. The McCanns have tried to use the media to keep alive the thread, because in the present day news is forgotten within the hour.
Posted by Andy on October 22, 2007 5:46 PM
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i wish the s africans had hugged and kissed the uk primeminister,gordon-bins-cotland---after all,he is a great leader and wonderful role model for the english and its rugby players---although he doesnt like rugby or england very much!!
Posted by paul on October 22, 2007 4:23 PM
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Typical. All those sanctimonious comments from pea-brains who won't have bothered to consider what Enright's article was about, never mind read it in its proper context and paused to recognise the perspective. It's the same reaction as to Sir Ian Blair's justified comments about the overreaction to the Soham murders. Reason and good judgement are abandoned by overly-sentimental people who prefer to revel in the notion of tragedy. Rather than be so self-indulgent, delay your outrage until you actually understand what the other person has said.
Posted by Hamish, Glasgow on October 22, 2007 3:42 PM
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"three of the England players managed to walk straight past Thabo Mbeki without shaking his hand"

Not surprising from the team that refused to line up at the red carpet at Lansdowne Road and thus forced the Irish President to walk through mud in her shoes to greet them before the match.

If an Irish team forced the Queen to walk through mud at Twickenham the Telegraph (and its readers) might have had strong views on such action.
Posted by S. Quinlivan on October 22, 2007 3:35 PM
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Can we stop wasting time on this and start focusing on the plight of our forces who are being starved of resources?

With the A400M transport aircraft massively late, will someone please ask the government if they will allocate further funding to purchase additional C17 aircraft from Boeing.

We have 4 on lease, supposedly "buying" these next year, followed by a 5th, supposedly a 6th. But really the RAF needs another 20 of these aircraft given the increasing cargo and kit that needs to be sent all over the globe.

The RAF isn't allowed to speak out, so will someone please speak for them???
Posted by Robert Sue on October 22, 2007 3:35 PM
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I hope that the McCanns are sophisticated enough readers to understand what Enright was saying, unlike the cruder headline-writers. Well explained, Sam.
Posted by Mr James on October 22, 2007 3:30 PM
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Rob U
Ms Enright doesn't purport to speak for anyone else. She wrote a subtle and searingly honest piece about being human in a world full of hype, hypocrisy and spin, working with the most hyped and hypocritical subjects of the day. I've experienced every single conflicted and contradictory emotion she describes and I don't think it's beyond the pale to make the McCanns (who are, by the way, being cynically used by every publication in the land to shift copies) the subject of such a piece.
For their part, they did exactly what they needed to in order to raise their profile even further: Hit out blindly at an essay they probably haven't read or understood.
This publicity makes judgemental harridans and voyeurs of us all, including me - and you. That's what Enright was on about (among other things) and this sham sympathy for people you've never met, just to get a few kicks from your superiority and their pain (like slowing down to watch a car crash) is sickening.
Posted by RH on October 22, 2007 2:40 PM
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I simply wonder upon what evidence Enright basis her assertion that 'most people' feel 'dislike' for the Mc'Canns.
Posted by Stella Pye on October 22, 2007 2:01 PM
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'three of the England players managed to walk straight past Thabo Mbeki without shaking his hand.'

You make it sound as though they did it by accident. As a head of state/government the man is a disgrace. I'm sure that many of the Boks were of the same mind but probably thought the potential fallout was not worth the satisfaction.

Posted by Tom Hanna on October 22, 2007 1:52 PM
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They probably just wanted to get away from Brown as fast as they could.
Posted by Al on October 22, 2007 1:16 PM
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Here's a headline that would really shock me:

"Sam Leith chooses position based on intellectual argument rather than attention-seeking contrarianism".
Posted by Kevin on October 22, 2007 1:06 PM
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In the case of the McCanns we need to recognise the difference between the events and the personalities involved. The McCanns don't strike me as people I would warm to, but that may be down to their medical background which gives them an inbuilt objectivity that can come across as coldness and inhuman composure in a situation such as they find themselves in.

Having said that, I recognise that they have been doing what most of us hope we would have the gumption to in similar circumstances; refusing to be fobbed off while hope still remains that their daughter is alive, and doing their damnedest to ensure that the media and the public don't switch off to their plight.
Posted by Niall Sullivan on October 22, 2007 12:59 PM
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I can't understand why there is all the fuss about the Enright article.
The McCanns made a deliberate choice to place themselves very much in the public domain and are still doing so on a daily basis.
The simple fact is that some people are willing to accept and sympathise with the caring image they have presented to the world whilst others are not.
People who make a very public display of seeking sympathy and are willing to accept it from the public have no right to complain when some people see things differently.

I am quite amused by the over-reaction of such a large number of the public in their rush to vilify anybody who happens not to agree with the self portrait the McCanns have tried to present of themselves.
People who have never met the McCanns but are quite willing to sympathise with them are quite happy to rush to assert that other people have no right to offer even the slightest criticism on the grounds that they are the ones who have never met them.
What is even more ridiculous is that they simply cannot see the contradictions in their attitude.
Posted by Jimmy Richardson on October 22, 2007 12:58 PM
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I was surprised to see no lights heralding the start to the Brazil F1 GP. Apparently this is normal but perhaps, being Hamilton's first race at Interlagos, this threw him for a second too and thereby hangs a thread of reason for his less than aggressive start.
Posted by Nick Reeson on October 22, 2007 12:56 PM
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Thank god someone has read Anne Enrights fantastic article in its entirety and dispassionately. It was written in the first person and was an article about her relationship to a story that seems to have captured everyones interest and generated a huge amount of conflicting passions and views. It was also written before her winning the Man Booker prize so how on earth can she be accused of trying to seek publicity for her book when she was clearly stunned to have won the award?
I have felt that the reactions of a lot of people to the sad story that is Madeleine McCanns disappearance is a consequence of their own secret 'but for the grace of God go I' feelings. And possibly its the same inner feelings of guilt which drive their reactions to Anne Enright.
And Ms Enright, if you are reading this, I have scrutinised the body language of the McCanns in the depths of the night too. And I am not proud of that either!
Posted by Ann G. on October 22, 2007 12:55 PM
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You're completely right about this Sam. Exactly the same thing has been happening to Martin Amis over these last weeks as well.
Posted by Johnny on October 22, 2007 12:53 PM
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"Walking past Thabo Mbeki without shaking his hand, eh? Well, there are plenty of reasons not to want to.

Perhaps the England players have relatives who have suffered from HIV/AIDS. Or possibly friends and relations in South Africa or Zimbabwe."
Posted by Chris on October 22, 2007 8:52 AM

Probably more likely that the three players in question just didn't know who the hell he was. Still, at least the remainder (including the player who did a double-take four or five paces on and turned back to shake hands) were sufficiently educated to recognise him. If it had been the England Soccer team, what's the betting that they would all have walked past.
Posted by Niall Sullivan on October 22, 2007 12:40 PM
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Enright was after publicity; simple.

Perhaps teh England players were a bit distracted. I mean, it's not like they'd just lost the world cup or anything? Think of the attitude of another Southern hemisphere leader when he had to hand out winners medals to the England team. I wonder if Mbeki would have been equally magninimous as the Australian premier was?
Posted by Steve Ipswich on October 22, 2007 12:38 PM
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Allan W, you have a right to criticize critics, just as do I.

However, you also have duty to be coherent and your silly phrase 'judgemental (sic) political correctness' is completely meaningless.

Enright stands accused of using a toxic situation (the McCann's plight) as a cheap vehicle for self-advertisement and although this no novel thing for literary coteries she must be ready to take the consequences, including hostile criticism such as this.

This reply, of course, is another log on the fire and no doubt you will come back with yours. Make sure though that next time you understand the meaning of your words.
Posted by Rob U on October 22, 2007 12:35 PM
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It is too soon for Enright to make comments. If she is a responsible citizen .Otherwise if it is satire go to Anorak. Although most of the media print satire.
Can't judge on family marriages? But I do wonder???
Posted by sarah on October 22, 2007 12:31 PM
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Enright is a highly derivative writer has ridden on the coat tails of other writers (e.g.
Thomas Vinternberg_ and she very cynically
attempted to boost her profile by riding on the
suffering of the McCanns. If she had nothing
positive to say, she should have shut up. I can't
think of any justification for her actions - she
appears to be a thoroughly unpleasant, self
serving and nakedly dishonest human being.
Posted by Michael Smith on October 22, 2007 11:41 AM
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First cousin marriages are not weird, nor are they illegal and they are not immoral. The Bible and the Church of England's Table of kindred and affinity (Book of Common Prayer) do not proscribe marriage to cousins as incest. Some of the US states proscribe cousin marriage, but they go beyond the requirements of scripture.

As for the genetic argument that you risk defective children, that is sheer nonsense. Ask any breeder of animals. Cousin marriage only causes problems in small communities where people do not marry outside the community (Endogamy as opposed to exogamy). Repeated marriage within the community will, over a few generations, concentrate any defective mutations. A classic example is the transmission of haemophilia within the royal families of Europe. Exogamy (marrying out) produces hybrid vigour, which is why mutts are such good dogs, there are so many beautiful people in Brazil and the British nearly conquered the world!
Posted by Corin Keiler-Lloyd on October 22, 2007 11:37 AM
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Rob U et al
Please get down off your high-horse. Your post is littered with examples of judgemental political correctness that tell us readers more about you and your shrewish attitudes than about the issue at hand.
Enright is perfectly entitled and able to comment on issues that have been aggressively thrust into the public arena.
Posted by Allan W on October 22, 2007 11:29 AM
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Who is Anne Enright?Someone who picked up an award for another book?The shops are full of books like this! All written by as first books?She obviously has not thought about what she has said.What if she had lost a chiild.People like this are so selfish it is untrue.I hope he book sales fall and she needs stripping of any prize I cannot believe a human can be so nasty and offensive.
She needs to hide for a long long time she has upset too many people.
An apology won't be enough for me not for many a year!
Posted by Mrs B.A.Corrigan on October 22, 2007 9:33 AM
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First cousin marriages *are* weird -- if you then go and have six children. The chances of a physical or mental disability arising are quite high.
Posted by Clothilde Simon on October 22, 2007 9:32 AM
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I agree entirely with Sam Leith's comments about Anne Enright. I read this paper's article about the outrage which didn't appear to connect with what she actually wrote. It seems from comments received so far, however, that the outrage has moved on from the context, which was misunderstood by some, to the fact that the subject was covered at all. It seems people just want to be outraged.
Posted by Charles A Lescott on October 22, 2007 9:27 AM
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Walking past Thabo Mbeki without shaking his hand, eh? Well, there are plenty of reasons not to want to.

Perhaps the England players have relatives who have suffered from HIV/AIDS. Or possibly friends and relations in South Africa or Zimbabwe.
Posted by Chris on October 22, 2007 8:52 AM
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Maybe Jack's comment at the wedding suggests he needs some grooming himself - the remark was instinctive but one someone perhaps slightly older and aware of every possibility might have toned down. Poor lad.
Posted by simon coulter on October 22, 2007 8:46 AM
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Enright cannot get away from the juxtaposition of the themes in her Man Booker prize winning novel and the primary implications as to the McCann disappearance. Reticence would have been better on her part.
Posted by simon coulter on October 22, 2007 8:44 AM
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"three of the England players managed to walk straight past Thabo Mbeki without shaking his hand. "

Maybe they have friends in Zimbabwe and feel rather unimpressed with Mbekis 'quiet diplomacy'.

I watched the match surrounded by Zimbabweans and they could not bear the site of Mbeki trying to pretend that he somehow inherits all Mandelas statesmanship.

Posted by Brian Beatty on October 22, 2007 8:22 AM
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Anne Enright was inadvertently exposing the issues this country has with Mobbing. Mobbing in the workplace has been widely researched in the US, Scandinavia and Germany and is described as the most vicious of subcultures.The fact that supposedly decent people will gang up against a person they perceive as
better than them in some way, more controlled, indeed more emotionally intelligent indicates to me that Janice Street Porter was spot on in the Independent yesterday in her editorial. Its time the UK woke up to this violation of human rights and dignity and put an end to these witch hunts.
Posted by Rosie McCawley on October 22, 2007 8:05 AM
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These people(the McCanns)are going through what would be to most normal human beings just about the worst agony that one could imagine - where is their little girl? To use their plight to write paid articles even 'darkly funny'articles (ugh! not an original bone in the man's body!) makes the rest of us change our daily ruminations about how in God's name these people get paid when by definition they have no obvious claim to intellect or knowledge - to asking why in God's those that pay them do so.
Posted by William Johnston on October 22, 2007 6:41 AM
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Sam Leith, you are re-writing Enright's article. Anybody with any kind of sense, and that includes, moral sense would have left the issue alone. Your apologia - why are you speaking on her behalf, by the way? - cannot wipe away the foul taste of Enright's offensively self-regarding foray into public controversy.

You patronizing assumption that we do not understand Enright's subtle self-examination misses the point: at the present time this 'darkly witty' process should take place in private. She can talk to herself for as long she wants but she cannot speak for 'us'.
Posted by Rob U on October 22, 2007 1:04 AM
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