Before winning the Man Booker Prize, Enright had a low profile in Ireland and the United Kingdom, although her books were favourably reviewed and widely praised. Her writing explores themes such as family relationships, love and sex, Ireland's difficult past and its modern zeitgeist.
Enright won an international scholarship to Lester B. Pearson United World College of the Pacific in Victoria, British Columbia, where she studied for an International Baccalaureate for two years. She received an English and philosophy degree from Trinity College, Dublin. She began writing in earnest when her family gave her an electric typewriter for her 21st birthday. She won a Chevening Scholarship to the University of East Anglia's Creative Writing Course, where she studied under Angela Carter and Malcolm Bradbury and earned an M.A..
Enright was a television producer and director for RTÉ in Dublin for six years and produced the RTÉ programme Nighthawks for four years. She then worked in children's programming for two years and wrote on weekends. Enright began writing full-time in 1993. Her full-time career as a writer came about when she left television due to a breakdown, later remarking: "I recommend it [...] having a breakdown early. If your life just falls apart early on, you can put it together again. It's the people who are always on the brink of crisis who don't hit bottom who are in trouble."
Enright lives in Bray, County Wicklow. She is married to Martin Murphy, who is director of the Pavilion Theatre in Dún Laoghaire. They have two children, a son and daughter.
Enright's early work has often been compared by critics to that of Flann O'Brien. The Portable Virgin, a collection of her short stories, was published in 1991. Angela Carter called it "elegant, scrupulously poised, always intelligent and, not least, original."
Enright's first novel, The Wig My Father Wore, was published in 1995. The book explores themes such as love, motherhood, Roman Catholicism, and sex. The narrator of the novel is Grace, who lives in Dublin and works for a tacky game show. Her father wears a wig that cannot be spoken of in front of him. An angel called Stephen who committed suicide in 1934 and has come back to earth to guide lost souls moves into Grace's home and she falls in love with him.
Enright's next novel, What Are You Like? (2000), is about twin girls called Marie and Maria who are separated at birth and raised apart from each other in Dublin and London. It looks at tensions and ironies between family members. It was short-listed in the novel category of the Whitbread Awards. The Pleasure of Eliza Lynch (2002) is a fictionalised account of the life of Eliza Lynch, an Irish woman who was the consort of Paraguayan president Francisco Solano López and became Paraguay's most powerful woman in the 19th century. Her book Making Babies: Stumbling into Motherhood (2004) is a collection of candid and humorous essays about childbirth and motherhood. Enright's fourth novel, The Gathering, was published in 2007.
Enright's writings have appeared in several magazines, including The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Granta, the London Review of Books, The Dublin Review and the Irish Times. She was once a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4, and now reviews for The Guardian and RTÉ. The 4 October 2007 issue of the London Review of Books published her essay, "Disliking the McCanns", about Kate and Gerry McCann, the British parents of three-year-old Madeleine McCann, who disappeared in suspicious circumstances while on holiday in Portugal in May 2007. The essay was criticised by some journalists.
In 2011, the Irish Academic Press published a collection of essays on Enright's work, edited by Claire Bracken and Susan Cahill. Her work is discussed and illustrated in the video 'Reading Ireland, '
In 2015, Enright was appointed as the inaugural Laureate of Irish Fiction by Taoiseach Enda Kenny. During her time as Laureate for Irish Fiction, Enright promoted people's engagement with Irish literature through public lectures and creative writing classes. She spent one semester at University College Dublin and one semester at New York University. The Wig My Father Wore (1995)
What Are You Like? (2000)
The Pleasure of Eliza Lynch (2002)
The Gathering (2007)
The Forgotten Waltz (2011)
The Green Road (2015)
The Portable Virgin (1991)
Taking Pictures (2008)
Yesterday's Weather (2009)
Making Babies: Stumbling into Motherhood (2004)
1991 Rooney Prize for Irish Literature for The Portable Virgin
2001 Encore Award for What Are You Like?
2004 Davy Byrne's Irish Writing Award
K2007 Man Booker Prize for The Gathering
2008 Irish Novel of the Year for The Gathering
Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature
2012 Orange Prize for Fiction shortlist for The Forgotten Waltz
2012 Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction for The Forgotten Waltz
2016 Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award for The Green Road