The Gathering won the 2007 Booker Prize and, as far as my prejudices inform me, this should have come as no surprise: it is the archetypal Booker Prize-winning novel – it is even the archetypal English literary novel.
There’s been much talk of the fact that the literary novel is only another genre. – Of course, it depends how you’re defining “literary”. Certainly in my mind the word “literary”, when coupled with the word “novel” or “fiction”, has acted as a sort of warning to steer well clear. I, at least, conceive that, in England, there is certainly a type of literary novel which dominates.
The archetype goes something like this: a person, locked now in a life of dull, unemotional domesticity, reflects back on an event – itself not necessarily all that interesting – which gave meaning to their life.
This event, as in The Gathering, will perhaps be kept back from the reader, so that, in the manner of a thriller, the reader will have some reason to trudge on through the otherwise boredom-inducing tedium of the narrative. In fact, there are various threads in The Gathering, how which a more enthusiastic reader than me is probably wondering will be resolved. [Sorry about the strangeness of the grammar in that sentence]. It’s the obliqueness which I feel lies at the centre of these novels’ ultimate failure. It leads to there being no immediacy within what should be the most interesting area of the narrative, whilst the main part of the narrative is filled out with the worst kind of trivial detail.
In fact, to take a scene from The Gathering itself: this novel is rather like, when you were a child, being taken to visit your grandparents, finding there nothing whatever to do, and discovering that the only way to amuse yourself is to drift off into your own imagination.
On the other hand, it’s certainly not a light comedy. The style is adequate, but nothing more. Enright’s world is an entirely joyless and tedious one – one which I find I do not wish to inhabit for long. And while the characters are clearly going through some strong emotions, I didn’t feel the slightly sympathy for them, I imagine because the writer didn’t do anything to make me feel attached to them. They are just the usual dull grey everypeople with which these novels are always populated.
I stopped after 50 pages.
Next up: Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart