What Are You Like is an intriguing tale told in an intense, machine-gun style by Anne Enright. It tells the tale of a Dubliner, Maria, whose mother died in childbirth. Maria, 20 years old and living in New York, struggles and fights. Mostly she is somewhat miserable. She cleans houses, sleeps with strangers, attempts suicide, has a nervous breakdown and takes drugs. Her life is difficult. She believes she “does not have a talent for life.”
Then she finds a photo of herself. Only the person in the photo is not her, it’s a girl who looks exactly like her. But it can’t be her – the clothes are different, the people in the photo are people she has never meet. What is this? What is going on?
There is nothing going on. But Maria actually has a twin sister; an identical twin. They don’t know about each other, as they were separated at birth. Their birth was not an ordinary one, their mother died of a brain tumor while giving birth. And their father, Berts, quickly decided that he could take care of only one of the girls. The child he kept, he named Maria. The daughter he gave away, he named Marie. Marie was renamed Rose. And while Maria stayed in Dublin, Rose moved around the world with her parents.
Rose is different from Maria. She is a sadist who taunts the foster children her parents take in, goading one boy into throwing a kitten through a window and later trying to drown him. She is also a shoplifter. She believes there is “a hole in her head, a hole in her life.”
At the same point, the two young women begin to search for each other. The search leads them back to the well-meaning old Berts and the tough decision he once made in a maternity ward, and its many consequences.
What Are You Like is a strange and interesting story. Perhaps it is Anne Enright’s answer to the question of what is most important – biology or upbringing? Perhaps it is a tale about the strange role played by genes, or perhaps is a tale about how being together with someone for nine months in the womb and never meeting that person leave a hole? Either way, it is an interesting, very intense, entertaining and very well written novel about identity by an exceptional writer!