In the Foreward to Anne Enright’s chronological collection of her short stories entitled “Yesterday’s Weather” she is surprised at the female characters meanness toward each other. She remarks that it is not her personal experience, because she has very dear female friends. In my recent review of that collection I noted how sex is a theme throughout all her writing. “The Gathering”, Ms. Enright’s Man Booker Prize Finalist novel, was chronologically written in between her early short stories and her later ones. The novel retains a literary tic of Ms. Enright that is a peculiar cross between a dramatic direction, or a 1950s or early 1960s documentary or newscast. “Here’s Ada and Charlie in bed a year later.” “Here is …” It is a small criticism considering Ms. Enright’s skills, but she must like the style as her editors have not corrected it. At times I think I can hear Edward R. Murrow reading the lines.
Sex, biological not erotic; predatory not love runs throughout this novel as it does in her short stories. It is an external and internal club of self-hating. Veronica a middle child in a large Irish family are coming together for the wake for Liam, her alcoholic, troubled brother, with whom she was close. There are strong and weak forces within the nucleus of this dysfunctional family. It is as if too much emotion, leaves no emotion at all. The Gathering is of retained pettiness, perceptions, quirks, and ghosts that have lingered in the Hegarty’s family closet. Veronica is an electron trying like her brother to break free from family suffocation and stability to find a life or love that she thinks she has missed. It is a cold story that Virginia Wolff would appreciate.
Her grandmother, Ada, modeled a cold pathway through life, that only a presumed reformed prostitute could. Not uncommon in the era, children were ornaments that would be smashed and broken, even if they could survive death. Ada’s wake has a genetic route to Liam.
“Ada with her suitcase, the day her mother died. How she turned and carried the suitcase out of the house. Any everything that seemed impossible was possible after all. She had the gift of feet, that placed themselves one after the other so that she could walk out of there, and she had the gift of her hands, to make her way through life, and she did not look back.”
Veronica is luckily or unfortunately not so blessed.
“Gatwick airport is not the best place to be gripped by a fear of flying. But it seems that this is what is happening to me now; because you are up so high, in those things, and there is such a long way to fall. Then again, I have been falling for months. I have been falling into my own life, for months. And I am about to hit it now.”
If good writing stems from writing about what you know, I am a little fearful for Ms. Enright because there is deep coldness in her work. If great writers can capture characters and relationships independent of experience, Ms. Enright is a talented writer.
“The Gathering” is a fictonal tale about one Irish family, as are the Irish characters in Ms. Enright’s short stories. Ms. Enright does not flatter the Irish, even though I suspect she is fond of her heritage. I would like to have her use her talent to move beyond this realism or caricature and if only to prove capability, to embrace some love and joy. Veronica’s child offers a morsel of this, so perhaps Ms. Enright can draw from her own life.
“The Gathering” is memorable and worth reading.