The Gathering – Anne Enright

I wasn’t going to make a conscious choice for a novel of Anne Enright – and that’s simply because I did not know of her – if she had not won the Man Booker prize for the year 2007.

I don’t put much stock by literary prizes which often reward books for reasons other than artistic merit, but Booker, Pulitzer and, importantly, Nobel literature prizes are useful indicators of what sort of writing is being appreciated and read across the spectrum. They often bring us quality stuff which we readers often miss in the multitude of new literature that’s published and marketed every year. With that in mind, I ordered a copy of this novel.

It’s the story of a dysfunctional Irish family centred around the death of one of the siblings – Liam – and his funeral, who in his life has been rather an odd character, more dysfunctional than the rest of the family. I am apprehensive about giving away spoilers so let’s just say that the suicide of Liam at the young age of 38, was a consequence of something horrible that happened at his grandfather house when he was 8. But there couldn’t be a more cliched storyline than what had happened to Liam and his subsequent deterioration and downfall which it had let to.

The novel is written in stream-of-consciousness style, flitting back and forth time periods, segueing from one thing to something another, getting clearer as it progresses – like a pixelated image that materialises, in slow and steady fashion, from blurry dots to shades, and from shades to shapes and from shapes to a clear image as you read along – which is also to say that it is successful attempt at stream-of-consciousness narration. It’s a difficult form and I think Enright falters a bit in the end when she becomes too direct and explicit about what brought down her brother.

This style of narration is not everyone’s cup of tea, as I have seen many reviews putting the novel down for being ‘slow’ and ‘boring’ and ‘unclear’ which is an uninformed reader’s way of saying that they don’t quite like stream-of-consciousness narration. As for the charge of lack of clarity, the narrator – Veronica – is clearly an unreliable narrator. She tells us something and soon contradicts herself by conceding her failing memory, or maybe it’s just a dream, or maybe she’s just imagining things. She does it for a few important junctions in the story, which confuses the reader as to the actual ‘truth’ of the story, but I think that’s the point: the narrator is unsure of herself, she may even be withholding information – especially about what might have happened to her as opposed to what happened to her brother.  So the narrator is trying to make the reader see more than she with her limitations can.

It’s a good novel and worth reading. But for the big cliché that sits at the heart of the novel, I’d give it full marks. It, however, remains 4/5 for me.

First published 2007

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