CLS: The Gathering, by Anne Enright

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


7 thoughts on “CLS: The Gathering, by Anne Enright

  1. I’ve got this… I can’t stop books like you do, I mostly go on reading no matter what. Sometimes it’s worth it, often it’s not. I don’t think I’ll get to this any day soon. It sounds a bit morbid – I might like it on some days.

  2. Good, you can tell me what the dark secret is. I suspected there was one, and then I looked in the blurb and that seems to suggest there is one too.

    It’s not a cheery novel, certainly.

    I realise now I should have had another criterion: Are the characters in this novel the usual dull grey everypeople who inhabit every modern English novel? (The dull grey everypeople are less common in American fiction, I hazard).

  3. Oh yes, I suppose that’s a bit of an error. But frankly, the literary novel is one area, I feel, where there is no difference between English and Irish culture.

    John Self’s Asylum mentions in its review of Julian Gough’s Jude In London, in a section satirising the Irish novel, “the scene of Jude recalling endless Irish novels of people attending funerals in the rain was very funny”. Sounds somewhat familiar.

  4. I gather (arf) that this book is in its own way fast becoming an ur-text for miserabilist Irish literary cliches, which is a reason to avoid it by several parasangs. Dull, tedious, joyless – yep, that’s pretty much what I was expecting to hear.

    And yet, in defiance of my instincts, I have her new one on the shelf. Reviews suggest it does at least feature a range of human emotions, rather than just the grim ones, and I will forgive much in pursuit of a well-executed skewering of boom-time Irish excesses.

  5. It does seem like the archetypal Irish Booker winner. Has Fergal Keane read it on Book at Bedtime yet?

  6. It should be read alongside Flann O’Brien’s The Poor Mouth – though perhaps that is more a satire of Irish poverty than misery.

    Gough, I imagine, is good on skewering the boom-time, though I haven’t read Jude in London.

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