The Gathering by Anne Enright (Vintage)


“I would like to write down what happened in my grandmother’s house the summer I was eight or nine, but I am not sure if it really did happen.”

THE back cover copy on my edition says that this 2007 winner of the Booker prize is “dark”, a term coined both by the Guardian and the Independent, while the stalwart resource of such simplistic adjectives the Glasgow Herald says “powerful”. Maybe it is just a complicated book, guys.

Enright skates between the present and the imagined like a stand up comic who goes off on a tangent to drag some nugget of mirth off the backshelf of her imagination. Tracts of this could be read aloud:

Her heroine: “A disruption of the natural order, that is what I am”. Her descriptions: “Inside, Nugent looks around his little room; the narrow bed, the window, with two lace curtains like hair parted over a little square face and tied on either side”.  Naturally eloquent, a carefully constructed delight. I love this description:

“…the silence starts to spread. It seeps into the foyer of the Belvedere; the distant rustle of streets turning over from day into evening, as the night deepens and the drinking begins – elsewhere. As women shush their babies, and men ease their feet out of boots, and girls who have been working all evening wash themselves in distant rooms and check a scrap of mirror…”

We have another Irish superstar.

This is the story of Liam, only Liam is already dead. It is little sister Veronica’s story but this being an Irish story it is about the whole Hegarty family, back to her gran Ada and her lovers and admirers. It is about divisions of generations, Ada 1922, mam 1942, Veronica 1962, Veronica’s children 1982.

“The Hegartys did not start kissing until the late eighties and even then we stuck to Christmas”.

She bobs and weaves between the eras, between the beds, between the stern walls of different moralities…sometimes she maudles but in the way that family life can maudle, at heart it is also about the loneliness even in the midst of this family of 12 children and seven miscarriages.

We are to gather for Liam’s wake, for a passing around of generations’s mixed gifts to each other, good and bad. The truth. The lies. Speculation. Deduction. The narrative is emotional rather than factual, careful pointillism so details arrive at random, backwards, before all is eventually revealed.

Veronica writes scattily, colloquially, nipping out here for an anecdote, popping round there for a story, suddenly remembering a link. She wraps her shame around her like a shawl, a thin shawl through which you can feel the contours of her body and the colour of her clothes. Who’s shame? She pulls the shawl tighter around her…Repressed?

He had beautiful manners. Which, if you ask me, was mostly a question of saying nothing, to anyone, ever. ‘Hello, are you well’, ‘Goodbye now, take care’, the whole human business had to be ritualised. ‘I’m sorry for your trouble’.

The human business would be a better moniker than dark. Ritualised. There is a wonderful image where Veronica escapes to Gatwick airport and stays…


About drewsmith28

Words, words, words...
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