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The Gathering – Anne Enright

August 5, 2008

This is a gloomy, difficult but fascinating novel detailing, and I mean detailing, the idiosyncracies, the dysfunctionalities and the hidden hurts in the history of a large Irish family. The catalyst for the revealing is the suicide of one of the brothers whose funeral brings together the genrations and the memories. It’s the kind of novel that I think could only emerge from Ireland with our dark history of oppression, poverty and scandal. And it stands in stark contrast to the mood of something like So Brave. (Indeed, I’m often intrigued by the contrasts in tone between Booker winners and Pulitzer winners.)

I began it prior to going into hospital, but left it behind when I went to Dublin, reasoning that it would not be the kind of novel to read in a hospital ward. I was right. Enright is almost forensic in her examination of how the family has been impacted by a shameful, secret event from the childhood of the dead brother which she witnessed but subconsciously (perhaps) she buried internally. The novel won the Man Booker Prize in 2007 and I can see how it would. It’s the kind of novel which tends to do well in local prizes. But to my mind, Enright tries too hard and is too self-consciously ‘literary’. But she is also disarmingly honest. The book is an experience which, whilst not necessarily ‘enjoyable’, it is worth a read. Just make sure you’re in a reasonably good mood.

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