Saturday, August 11, 2007

a crowded house

Yet another Irish family saga? The Gathering has all the key ingredients of any Irish saga (which the novel acknowledges at one point) - drinking, overcrowding, child death, domestic violence, gambling, child abuse and Catholicism. But Anne Enright manages to lift the form to a new level largely due to her central character, Veronica Hegarty.

Veronica is a modern woman, relatively successful, relatively happy - trying to make sense of her life in the light of her brothers death.

‘I could pick up my keys and go ‘home’ where I could ‘have sex’ with my ‘husband’ just like lots of other people did. This is what I had been doing for years. And I didn’t seem to mind the inverted commas, or even notice that I was living in them, until my brother died.’

To try to understand how brother Liam came to be a body in a box laid out in the family lounge, Veronica wanders back through family memory. But this is not a sepia-tinted postcard past. These are truths told with unashamed clarity, and a need to lay blame where blame is due.

We rapidly realise that the process of memory is as important as the facts it unearths. Veronica shows how memory is elusive - it can flitter, jumble and distort the things you think you know. At times, looking through the Hegarty past feels like a child’s flicker book with the pages in the wrong order.

But while the mind might play the trickster, the body never lies. And the body is an ever present character throughout this novel, with best supporting role coming from the penis! The body has a permanence which lasts even through physical decomposition. The body adds weight to anchor Veronica and to prevent her narrative from drifting into dizzy existential heights.

‘I would love to leave my body. Maybe this is what they are about, these questions of which or whose hole, the right fluids in the wrong places, these infantile confusions and small sadisms: they are a way of fighting our way out of all this meat’

I enjoyed my first longlist read. The story itself is nothing new, but the telling sets it apart. I’m not willing to commit myself yet as to whether this should make the shortlist, I need some others to compare it with. But if the mark of a good book is how long it lasts in the readers memory then The Gathering is a good book. Enright tells a story in bruises - each doesn’t hurt much in itself - but they build to a colourful mess and are slow to fade.


Stefanie said...

"Enright tells a story in bruises - each doesn’t hurt much in itself - but they build to a colourful mess and are slow to fade." What a great description!

John said...

A clear-eyed review which cuts through this rather messy book. I am finding myself admiring much of the prose without liking the book very much. Enright teeters dangerously on the border between brilliance and preciousness and sometimes falls on the wrong side.