Posted on Apr 30, 2008 in Fiction

by Anne Enright
Black Cat, 2007

Ah, the Irish writers.  I gave my then boyfriend (now husband of thirty plus years) pause when we were dating,  because of what he feared was my penchant for melancholy of Irish writers.  I think I was reading D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love at the time, and he worried that I too often viewed him and our relationship through Irish eyes.

Anne Enright is Irish and she writes a dark Irish novel.  Not quite as impressionable as I was in my early twenties, I was able to read Enright’s novel with a bit more objectivity, not so readily identifying with the narrator’s psyche.  And it’s a good thing, because Veronica Hegarty is having a nervous breakdown in the wake of her brother Liam’s suicide.

Of the twelve Hegarty children, it was Liam to whom Victoria was the closest.  And because or a secret she and he shared, she is tormented my guilt – afraid that what she saw, what she knew but never shared made her in some way complicit in his self-destructive life.

The Gathering won the Man Booker Prize in 2007.  That’s why I picked it up to read.  You are almost guaranteed elegant prose with the authors who win this award.  And fine it was.

Here’s the opening line: “I would like to write down what happened in my grandmother’s house the summer I was eight or nine, but I am not sure if it really did happen.”

What this opening line foreshadows is the way in which Enright, via the narrator, takes creative license to spin memories one or two or even three ways.  It’s a fascinating technique and she uses it in several instances.  For example, when she remembers (or imagines?) Lamb Nugent, having tea with her grandmother Ada – Lamb, the suitor whom Ada rejected – she imagines a chaste scene first where the two sit primly in the front parlor, only their eyes suggesting the sexual tension between them.  And then a paragraph or two later, she spins it differently, has them unbuttoning,  rolling around on the floor until they are spent.

This almost memoirish novel leaps back and forth in time.   As far back as Ada’s first encounter with Lamb Nugent, and then forward to the anguish of claiming a body, back to the recounting of a a college love, forward to the wake and the gathering of the Hegartys.  There is never any straight chronology to the telling of this tale.  It is a story recovered, like memories, in bits and pieces as Victoria sifts and sorts trying to paste them into some kind of whole.

Enright effectively conveys the dizzy disorientation that Victoria is feeling.  Though more than once I wanted her to get on with it, stop wallowing in Victoria’s precarious mental state.  I had gotten the point.  Now I wanted to see which way Victoria would fall – into suicidal despair, or back into the possibility of life beyond guilt.

I’d recommend the read. But save it for a vacation or a weekend where you can bore through to the end before you give up.  Because the last two lines are as good as the first.

For Enright’s interview with Diane Rehm mentioned aboveee the archives, February 14, 2008 or click here and scroll down to second hour: