The Gathering, by Anne Enright

by admin on June 27, 2011

The Gathering, by Anne EnrightThe Gathering is a small and short book; my version is only 261 pages long. Yet it is a huge novel, covering a lot of ground, with lots of dept and full of haunting insights and smaller tales within the tale. It is no coincidence that Anne Enright, the excellent and very Irish writer, won the Man Booker prize in 2007 for this delightful novel – rather it was well deserved.

The Gathering is a moving and very evocative portrait of a large Irish family, the Hegarty clan. It is a clan that – like all clans – is haunted by the past. Now the nine surviving Hegarty siblings gather together in the family home in Dublin for the wake of their brother Liam and in this situation the past aligns itself yet again more closely to the present. Memories push their way into thoughts; rooms, light and things become signs and tokens of persons, tales and actions; expressions, conversations and movements take on deeper meanings , meanings with roots somewhere deep in the past. It seems impossible not to relate to the past – it seemingly is insistent on presence in the here and now. Past and present meets, for us, mainly in the recollections of Liam’s sister Veronica who in observance of a life now ended recalls the past – perhaps real, perhaps imagined – and tries to understand all the many whys and hows of Liam’s life and death.

But sorrow is not only understanding. At least it is not only understanding, and, indeed, perhaps mostly not understanding. Sorrow is pain, grief, emotion, sadness and emptiness that penetrate brain and heart. And in the case of Veronica, it is to a large extent what can perhaps best be characterized as rage. And Veronica rages; against her mother, her husband, her sisters, her children and her brother. And gradually, increasingly as the external sources of her rage dries up like a well drained lake, her rage encompasses herself.

Veronica comes from a strange family. The Hegarty clan is obsessed with sex, and penises in particular, and her self-loathing in the sexual act is matched only by her loathing for her wealthy husband Tom:

“I am saying that, the year you sent us away, your dead son was interfered with, when you were not there to comfort or protect him, and that interference was enough to send him on a path that ends in the box downstairs. That is what I am saying, if you want to know.”

“.. I have disturbed the ghosts. They are outside the door of the room, now, as the ghosts of my childhood once were; they are behind the same door. Their story is there, out on the landing of Griffith Way, waiting for me one more time.”

Enright lets us into a strange world in an unusual fashion. Reading The Gathering, a picture – confused, unclear, but still – emerges where it seems Veronica feels a deeper connection to her lost brother than the rest of her family. “I am the one who has lost something that cannot be replaced.” But why did Liam die? Why is she mourning him now? Why didn’t she die? Why did she survive the dysfunctional Hegarty family life? Why was it that Liam that grew up to become an alcoholic who, one day seemingly like most days, put a handful of stones in his pockets, took off his socks and underwear, and walked off a Brighton pier?

Veronica constructs and re-constructs her family – rife as it was with abuse, alcohol, deep secrets, and hurt. She seemingly cannot resist. Gradually she is drawn back into that which she once gleefully and victoriously escaped. Into the mystery that lurks there and the marks it left. If Liam exposed the lie, Victoria will expose the truth of it.

The Gathering is a family story that cuts deep and leaves scars. It reminds of situations, emotions, and reactions most people have encountered in their own lives, and masterfully uses these as a basis for a journey deep into that presence of past in the present and the difficulties of moving beyond. It is written in excellent, clear prose but with considerable depth, making the story layered and convoluted. A delightful book that deserves – and to some extent requires – several readings. The Gathering is a pleasure to read, full of melancholic love and rage unflinchingly explored by the talented Anne Enright, who has exceptional gifts for observation and deduction.

Praise:

“You will love this book or loathe it. It doesn’t take prisoners, it doesn’t simper or seek to be liked. Abrasively honest and toweringly moving, it grabs and shakes you, rabbiting on in a manic monologue, comical, tragic, lost and profound.” — The Scotsman

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Yesterday’s Weather, by Anne Enright

by admin on June 23, 2011

Yesterday's Weather, by Anne EnrightYesterday’s Weather is a book of short stories, written over the course of 19 years, by Anne Enright, the winner of the 2007 Man Booker Prize for The Gathering. The book has 31 stories, most of them with a very distinct Irish flavor and mostly set in Ireland. Mostly the stories tell relatively mundane but skillfully crafted and beautifully told tales of daily life

Enright is an excellent observer. The characters in her tales grapple with marital strife, infidelity, the strain of motherhood and other challenges, and Enright masterfully describes the multiple injuries – minor or large – suffered while shouldering these burdens in a precise and enlightening manner. Her descriptions often feel like they cut into the situations and characters at the same time as her ability to characterize makes the characters seem alive, understandable and sometimes fragile. Also, the author has an uncanny ability to tweak ordinary situations in intriguing ways.

Even though many of the stories in Yesterday’s Weather are gloomy, I enjoyed them a great deal. Enright is a sly and scintillating examiner of the human condition, and these are cleverly told tales. Many are based on observations of situations which most readers will have encountered in their own lives, and are communicated with references that may enhance recognition, recollection and identification. As a result, Anne Enright’s beautiful prose and clever interpretations often resonate deeply with her readers.

The stories I personally liked most were perhaps how two wives came to different conclusions about their husbands’ infidelities in “Until the Girl Died” and “The Portable Virgin”. I also loved the tightly focused stories “Little Sister” and “Felix”.

I liked some of the stories more than others, of course, but overall I was delighted with this collection of excellent and sometimes edgy stories. However, many of the stories may seem quite dark, so this is not a book to be read in one sitting – then, I think, the melancholy would be somewhat overwhelming. Rather, I enjoyed one or two stories (some of the stories are very short) at a time. Read this way, I savored the beautiful writing style and observations. The prose is really brilliant, Yesterday’s Weather is definitely well worth checking out!

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Reviews of The Forgotten Waltz

by admin on May 17, 2011

The Forgotten Waltz, Anne Enright’s most recent book, has been reviewed in The Indpendent. The book is  about adultery, and set in Dublin in the first decade of this century. The Independent writes:

A literary novel by an esteemed Booker Prize winner about an adulterous contemporary love affair is a risky venture. For a mildly discontented woman to be swept away by a passion for her sister’s sexy neighbour – it’s a cliché both in literature and in life, you might say. Yet the novel carries an awareness of this, I think, and if the protagonist sees her own falling for Sean as a failure of style, that just makes it all the more excruciating for her.

Here is a link to the full review.

Guardian too has a very positive review:

“I just can’t believe it. That all you have to do is sleep with somebody and get caught and you never have to see your in-laws again. Ever. Pfffft! Gone. It’s the nearest thing to magic I have yet found.” That’s the Anne Enright voice all right – wry, disabused, reckless, candid, funny. The hardened, suffering speakers in her recent fine story collection, Taking Pictures, use this tone; the grim damage of her Booker-winning The Gathering is energised by all that darkly comic unflinchingness.

The Forgotten Waltz, as its romantic title suggests, has more of a soft centre than she usually allows herself.

Here is a link to the review in Guardian.

Telegraph writes:

The Forgotten Waltz does not provide us with the satisfactions of a clear beginning, middle and ending; and this is part of its point. It is an exploration of the ordinariness of adultery in a world that takes it for granted: the way its promise of emancipation simply fades away.

Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina both killed themselves. Gina Moynihan’s fate is less dramatic – but in its quieter way, hardly less tragic. Anne Enright has taken a great risk in writing this book, but she has brought it off superbly.

Here is a link!

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What Are You Like, by Anne Enright

by admin on April 13, 2011

What Are You Like, Ann EnrightWhat Are You Like is an intriguing tale told in an intense, machine-gun style by Anne Enright. It tells the tale of a Dubliner, Maria, whose mother died in childbirth. Maria, 20 years old and living in New York, struggles and fights. Mostly she is somewhat miserable. She cleans houses, sleeps with strangers, attempts suicide, has a nervous breakdown and takes drugs. Her life is difficult. She believes she “does not have a talent for life.”

Then she finds a photo of herself. Only the person in the photo is not her, it’s a girl who looks exactly like her. But it can’t be her – the clothes are different, the people in the photo are people she has never meet. What is this? What is going on?

There is nothing going on. But Maria actually has a twin sister; an identical twin. They don’t know about each other, as they were separated at birth. Their birth was not an ordinary one, their mother died of a brain tumor while giving birth. And their father, Berts, quickly decided that he could take care of only one of the girls. The child he kept, he named Maria. The daughter he gave away, he named Marie. Marie was renamed Rose. And while Maria stayed in Dublin, Rose moved around the world with her parents.

Rose is different from Maria. She is a sadist who taunts the foster children her parents take in, goading one boy into throwing a kitten through a window and later trying to drown him. She is also a shoplifter. She believes there is “a hole in her head, a hole in her life.”

At the same point, the two young women begin to search for each other. The search leads them back to the well-meaning old Berts and the tough decision he once made in a maternity ward, and its many consequences.

What Are You Like is a strange and interesting story. Perhaps it is Anne Enright’s answer to the question of what is most important – biology or upbringing? Perhaps it is a tale about the strange role played by genes, or perhaps is a tale about how being together with someone for nine months in the womb and never meeting that person leave a hole? Either way, it is an interesting, very intense, entertaining and very well written novel about identity by an exceptional writer!

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The Wig My Father Wore, by Anne Enright

by admin on April 27, 2010

This is Anne Enright’s first novel, published in 1995. The Wig My Father Wore, by Anne EnrightIt is a funny, perhaps even hilarious novel about parents, love, sex, motherhood, religion, and also about the absurdities of them all. It is a strange, excellent and enthralling novel.

The narrator of this excellent story is Grace. She lives in Dublin and works for a pretty tacky television show called Love Quiz. The crew of the show is strange and bizarre, and so is her family. She has a father who is growing senile and wears a wig. His wig is a somewhat controversial topic, and it cannot be spoken of in front of him. It is treated as a member of the family.

When Stephen arrives on her doorstep, Grace has no idea what she’s in for. Stephen has a strange tale to tell. He explains that he is an angel, a former bridge builder, who committed suicide in 1934. He has been sent back to earth (as all suicides are) to guide lost souls – to set “despair to rights”.

Grace does not take this personally at first, but eventually she has to face the idea that things are not so easy, and that her greatest intimacy is with this supernatural creature. As Grace begins to take stock of her life and the prospect of caring enough about something to fight for it, The Wig My Father Wore takes us on a moving, surreal romp through Catholicism, parents, and the reclamation of love from the twin modern evils of cynicism and the detritus of pop culture.

The ending is very subtle and very interesting, with odd characters. It is overall an excellent novel, written in a very precise manner while dealing at times with quite absurd incidences and situations. The Wig My Father Wore is a very entertaining read, outstandingly written, full of sentences and observations that amaze, and overall, a very intelligent novel.

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The Portable Virgin, by Anne Enright

by admin on April 8, 2010

This powerful collection of short stories The Portable Virgin, by Anne Enright is Anne Enright’s debut book. It is an unusual book, a special book where the characters of the various stories interpret their lives through different unusual languages – visual, numeric, linguistic, and sexual – and through honesty, humor and polemical imagination. The author was awarded the best first in English at Trinity College, Dublin, since Oscar Wilde. The collection won the 1991 Rooney Prize.

Even though the title may be The Portable Virgin, there is actually not much chastity in this book. In the title story, a small virgin figure is found at the bottom of a handbag stolen by a wronged wife. She proceeds to drink the Holy Water and puts the little bottle in the sea. The bottle and the bag seem to belong to her husband’s mistress. She knows about her husband’s mistress. But she also loves her husband. She has to live with the situation – as, in a sense, the third person in her own marriage.

The stories are dark, twisted and edgy. They share a somewhat icy detachment and stark realism, and they are full of rough language. Even so, these are outstanding stories of difficult conditions and difficult choices that are also, at the same time, stories of love and longing. The Portable Virgin is a great collection of short stories and an exceptional debut by Anne Enright.

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Interviews with Anne Enright

March 22, 2010

Interview with The Post.ie – 2002 Interview with the Guardian – 2007 Interview with The Independent – 2007 Interview with BBC News – 2007 Interview at amazon.com (video) – 2008 Interview with Boston Globe – 2008 Interview with Nigel Beale – audio – 2008

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Anne Enright at the NYS Writers Institute in 2008 – YouTube video

March 22, 2010

Anne Enright at the New York State Writer’s Institute in 2008

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Bibliography, Anne Enright

March 20, 2010

The Portable Virgin (1991) The Wig My Father Wore (1995) What Are You Like? (2000) The Pleasure of Eliza Lynch (2002) Making Babies: Stumbling into Motherhood (2004) The Gathering (2007) Taking Pictures (2008) Yesterday’s Weather (2009) The Forgotten Waltz (2011) Links to books by Anne Enright at Amazon US, Amazon UK, and Amazon CAN.

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