This powerful collection of short stories is Anne Enright’s debut book. It is an unusual book, a special book where the characters of the various stories interpret their lives through different unusual languages – visual, numeric, linguistic, and sexual – and through honesty, humor and polemical imagination. The author was awarded the best first in English at Trinity College, Dublin, since Oscar Wilde. The collection won the 1991 Rooney Prize.
Even though the title may be The Portable Virgin, there is actually not much chastity in this book. In the title story, a small virgin figure is found at the bottom of a handbag stolen by a wronged wife. She proceeds to drink the Holy Water and puts the little bottle in the sea. The bottle and the bag seem to belong to her husband’s mistress. She knows about her husband’s mistress. But she also loves her husband. She has to live with the situation – as, in a sense, the third person in her own marriage.
The stories are dark, twisted and edgy. They share a somewhat icy detachment and stark realism, and they are full of rough language. Even so, these are outstanding stories of difficult conditions and difficult choices that are also, at the same time, stories of love and longing. The Portable Virgin is a great collection of short stories and an exceptional debut by Anne Enright.