Literary The Gathering by Anne Enright
#1  sun surfer 10-08-2017, 10:47 AM
'Anne Enright is a dazzling writer of international stature and one of Ireland’s most singular voices. Now she delivers The Gathering, a moving, evocative portrait of a large Irish family and a shot of fresh blood into the Irish literary tradition, combining the lyricism of the old with the shock of the new.

The nine surviving children of the Hegarty clan are gathering in Dublin for the wake of their wayward brother, Liam, drowned in the sea. His sister, Veronica, collects the body and keeps the dead man company, guarding the secret she shares with him—something that happened in their grandmother’s house in the winter of 1968. As Enright traces the line of betrayal and redemption through three generations her distinctive intelligence twists the world a fraction and gives it back to us in a new and unforgettable light. The Gathering is a daring, witty, and insightful family epic, clarified through Anne Enright’s unblinking eye. It is a novel about love and disappointment, about how memories warp and secrets fester, and how fate is written in the body, not in the stars.'

The Gathering is the winner of the 2007 Man Booker Prize and was chosen unanimously by the jury.

This is the MR Literary Club selection for October 2017. Whether you've already read it or would like to, feel free to start or join in the conversation at any time, and guests are always welcome! So, what are your thoughts on it?

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#2  Bookworm_Girl 10-08-2017, 03:19 PM
I didn't realize the book was unanimously chosen for the Man Booker Prize. I was curious what the other books were that year. Here is the shortlist:

Darkmans by Nicola Barker (4th Estate)
The Gathering by Anne Enright (Jonathan Cape); U.S.: Grove/Black Cat (September 2007)
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid (Hamish Hamilton); U.S.: Harcourt
Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones (John Murray); U.S.: Dial
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (Jonathan Cape); U.S.: Talese/Doubleday
Animal’s People by Indra Sinha (Simon & Schuster); U.S.: S&S

#3  fantasyfan 10-17-2017, 02:37 PM
Unfortunately, I am very disappointed in this book. Yes, it has the occasionally sensitive insight but just as often the prose descends into a crass vulgarity that I intensely dislike. I lived through the period she describes and while we now realise some of the terrible things that happened, everyone wasn't stupidly insensitive and wound up on an obsession with genitalia. I knew plenty of large families and they were generally happy and emotionally balanced. As to the narrator, I couldn't relate to her at all.

On the other hand, consider Tirra Lirra by the River-- a book with some broad similarities to The Gathering. There is a woman meditating on her past and a community with a dark secret. Jessica Anderson's main character was no angel but she was subtle, had an inner dignity, and I did sympathise with her. The novel itself had a coherence of tone conveyed with great skill and I felt it was a far better work than The Gathering.

#4  sun surfer 10-25-2017, 07:18 PM
I am about a quarter of the way through now. I see the crassness you're speaking of, fantasyfan, though I'm reserving judgment until I see how I feel about it together with the whole. I am moderately enjoying it so far, so it could go either way for me.

My first thought with the vulgarity was Joyce's Ulysses with its explicitness. I don't like to automatically compare an Irish writer to Joyce but that very frank (and sometimes crass and sexual) thought process of the protagonist combined with that this also features Dublin and has quasi-flashbacks to near-contemporary times to when Ulysses was published makes it hard for me not to. Otherwise though, I of course find this very different from Joyce so far.

#5  Bookworm_Girl 10-28-2017, 06:07 PM
By the end of book I was on the side of liking it. However it wasn't an easy journey along the way. I too found the crassness off-putting. I thought some of the prose was quite beautiful and emotionally dark yet tinged with dry wit and then you would be jarred by some of the vulgar imagery inserted. I assume that the author meant to make the reader uncomfortable given the subject matter, but it was over the top and could have been more sensitive. I read multiple interviews in which the author emphasized the following viewpoint about covering such subject material.

Spoiler Warning below
As the long-buried secrets of these decades come to light, a squalid and banal episode of sexual abuse almost inevitably features among them. Did she worry about the over-familiarity of this motif today? "I'm aware how jaded it is in novels in general," she replies, "and I'm also aware how important it is not to use what is a terrible human experience just for the sake of a book." Yet she also notes that "There often is a dark secret in books... There is often a gathering sense of dread, there's a gap sometimes in the text from which all kinds of monsters can emerge... So I knew all of this. And I went there anyway."

She went there in part because, for an Irish woman writer even 45 years after Edna O'Brien's breakthrough novels, the right to such frankness still needs to be seized: "In some way, when I deal with sexual material, I feel that I'm reclaiming or repossessing some territory that's been taken away from women by male writers."

I was not liking it very much for the first half. When I got to the secret at the mid-point, I stopped and went back to the beginning. I intended to just read the first few chapters to try to reframe my perspective. However, I kept going and read the first half all over again. That made a major shift in reading the book for me. Probably because I glossed over the jarring parts I knew were coming now and could focus on the main theme of the book as well as pick out more details tying everything together.

This book reminded me of different elements of three novels that the club has read: Tirra Lirra by the River as fantasyfan has mentioned, the exploration of grief in Nora Webster and the stream of consciousness in Mrs. Dalloway.

I am not surprised to find this book was favored by the literary critics and has polarizing viewpoints by the general public. Amazon US ratings show 3.1 stars made up of 42% @ 4/5, 14% @ 3 and 44% @ 1/2. Similarly Amazon UK ratings show 3.0 stars made up of 43% @ 4/5, 8% @ 3 and 49% @ 1/2. Goodreads also gives it 3 stars, but the distribution is almost equal thirds.

#6  Bookworm_Girl 10-28-2017, 06:15 PM
Here's a link to a BBC World Service podcast with Anne Enright. It says it is 50 minutes. I have downloaded it for listening sometime soon.
This month World Book Club talks to the acclaimed Irish writer Anne Enright about her poignant Booker Prize-winning novel The Gathering.

#7  Bookworm_Girl 10-28-2017, 06:30 PM
I have one more item to add. Anne Enright is the inaugural Laureate for Irish Fiction and will serve this role for 3 years from 2015-2018. I was curious what this honorary role means. Here is some interesting reading about the responsibilities.

Enright's specific roles and objectives:

A brief description in general:
The Laureate for Irish Fiction is an initiative of the Arts Council. The role, which was established in partnership with UCD, NYU and the Irish Times, seeks to acknowledge the contribution of fiction writers to Irish artistic and cultural life by:
-honouring an established Irish writer of fiction;
-encouraging a new generation of writers;
-promoting Irish literature nationally and internationally;
-encouraging the public to engage with high quality Irish fiction.

#8  sun surfer 11-12-2017, 08:38 AM
Thanks for all that info, Bookworm_Girl. It's very interesting to learn Enright will be the first Laureate for Irish Fiction.

In the end, I really liked this book. As with you, Bookworm_Girl, I was iffy on the first half but the last half really brought it together for me. It's also interesting that I never really thought of the 'gathering' as anything more than the family together, but her comments in your post now have me thinking on gathering feelings, like with her use of 'gathering sense of dread' in the interview you quoted and which word usage I don't think was accidental.

With the vulgarity, I can easily understand how both of you were put off by it, fantasyfan and Bookworm_Girl. I tried to think of it in terms of this one specific person who may have thought patterns that go this way. Perhaps it is unfair of me, but I couldn't get past thinking that this woman might not be the safest left around children because of the way her mind works combined with what she'd experienced (it's often said abusers had childhood experience with abuse themselves). Some of the things she thought when near some of the children seemed borderline to me.

On the other hand, I suppose we all have private thoughts of many different sorts of things and even if our minds don't go where hers goes on this, everyone has some thoughts that would be embarrassing or thought of as strange if others could hear them and it's just that in this book we see hers. That's one of the things I liked best about the book, the sense of seeing her unvarnished thoughts. I'm not so sure I agree with Enright's assertion in the interview Bookworm_Girl quoted though ('I feel that I'm reclaiming or repossessing some territory that's been taken away from women by male writers'). This seems rather accusatory to me.

One thing I loved about the novel was the ghostly imagery, as I could vividly imagine those scenes set more present day when she's seeing people already dead here and there. Her writing can be lyrical and I especially found it so with those passages.

I also enjoyed the unreliable memory, and the progression of those strange imagined quasi-flashbacks towards the truth of the past.

It's not an easy book to like, as its very low relative Goodreads rating attests, but I found it rewarding and I can well understand how it won the Man Booker by unanimous vote.

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