“The Gathering” by Anne Enright (2007) – missing the point?

On the day the Man Booker 2015 shortlist is announced (what a turn up for the books), I am still playing catch up, and have not managed to read any of the three books I bought when this year’s longlist came out. Sod’s Law, had also wrongly assumed Anne Enright would have made it to the next round, so duly charged off to pick her winner from 2007 off the shelves and have read that instead.

Well, I am still busy wrinkling up my nose and wondering why I failed to be moved and entranced. “The Gathering” had been sitting patiently since about 2007, waiting to be scooped up and haunting me with the forlorn yet challenging stare featured on the cover. So now that I have reached the last page, I am already finding fault with my own conceptions and perceptions of this novel.

Can I put this underwhelmed sensation down to the style being purposely determined to reflect a sort of stream of consciousness? Or is it because the theme seems rather belligerent in charging back and forth in time, bringing us snippets of reality but never really a complete picture to enable us to understand what is what and why what has happened was an inevitable conclusion? (yes, I realize this was the point, but how it irked me). Or was I just not in the right frame of mind when I read it and should pop it high on a shelf and come back to it in five years’ time and see if a return read is more satisfying? Cannot put my finger on it.

Too many questions really, as basically I should just have the courage of my convictions and confess that I was frequently irritated and niggled by the overall tone and perhaps even the woman narrating her tale of woe. No, even that is unfair – the last few pages of the book do see a huge change from the first 250 pages, and there is a pervading feeling that – finally – things may be able to change from where the book stops and the rest of Veronica’s life can begin. There is by necessity a nebulous quality to the general recounting of the large family’s history and the specific vicissitudes of brother Liam which I suspect some may find hits the spot exactly, but sadly I kept looking for that elusive Hallelujah moment and found myself left wanting.

Here’s a passage that sums up the trouble I had with the book :

“Maybe that was her mistake. She thought she could choose.  She thought she could marry someone she liked and be happy with him, and have happy children. She did not realize that every choice is fatal. For a woman like Ada, every choice is an error, as soon as it is made”.

Hurrumph.

Sometimes I wanted less about the same things being told from the same angle; more often I felt short-changed in wanting to understand more, for example, about these two characters’ mother. Absent through much of the narrative, she is eventually described as suffering the consequences of her own childhood and upbringing, yet this is skirted over, when it could have been so much more interesting to develop this side of the story. When we do get a visual image of her, it is as “this piece of benign human meat, sitting in a room”.

Youch.

Meanwhile Veronica herself seems doomed to eventually be judged in the same light by her own offspring: she describes the daily grind as quite some hell on earth – “And the girls will be picked up from school, and dropped off again in the morning. Your eldest daughter can remember her inhaler, and your youngest will take her gym kit with her, and it is just as you suspected – most of the stuff that you do is just nagging and whining and picking up for people who are too lazy even to love you, even that, let alone find their own shoes under their own bed; people who turn and accuse you – scream at you sometimes – when they can find only one shoe”.   Shoot me now.

Am truly sorry to have missed the finer points of this undeniably well written work. I don’t agree with the reviewer who compares this book with writing by Ali Smith, for I missed all traces of humour and flair that positively bounce off every page of “How To Be Both”. My loss, undoubtedly, and my apologies to the author. Having already as I confessed earlier splashed out on a hardback version of “The Green Road”, will gird my loins and walk steadfastly along this no longer prize-pursuing path, and hope to eat my own words with her new novel. You could say I’m looking for light at the end of this particular tunnel. Enough of the clichés, and fingers crossed.

Rating : 6/10

Winner of the The Man Booker Prize in 2007, Irish Novel of the Year in 2008, Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award in 2008

Image taken from here.
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14 Responses to “The Gathering” by Anne Enright (2007) – missing the point?

  1. Pingback: Reading Challenge from January 2015 | Literary ramblings etc

  2. Denise says:

    My feelings exactly! Both the comparison with Ali Smith and your thoughts specifically about The Gathering. The whole thing felt so predictable and weary.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: The Man Booker Prize and 2015 winner of the Man Booker International Prize | Literary ramblings etc

  4. We are on the same wavelength again. I never feel happy about writing down criticism, but my hopes were so dashed reading this book. I am wondering if I get on particularly well with the Booker winners, was just looking back at my list now and there are a fair few I haven’t loved. Hmmm. Are you reading any of the shortlisted titles?

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  5. It’s so nice to be validated – I also failed to be moved by ‘The Gathering’. In fact, my guilty treat about the 2015 shortlist is that The Green Road isn’t there so I don’t need to feel bad for being less than thrilled about trying it out.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve just seen your great post on the shortlist – the Anne Tyler is the only one I’ve read and “A Little Life” is the only one I own…. so I guess that’s where I ought to start? it does sound particularly harrowing though.

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  7. Sharmila says:

    I am relieved to see i am not the only one unable to sail ‘the Gathering’. And yesss. I am signing up for Anne Tyler

    Liked by 1 person

  8. We will be able to compare notes – from what I gather a lot of people who weren’t bowled over by TG seem to have enjoyed TGR more, be interesting to see what happens with AT…

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  9. heavenali says:

    I really liked The Gathering I think it could be a modern classic. The style isn’t that easy though and it’s one I don’t always like but something of the atmosphere of the book really stayed with me.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. It’s definitely a book that divided the crowds. I am glad I have The Green Road in the house so I can give a second book an airing, as I did feel I had to be missing out somewhere. Think you are right that it will be deemed a modern classic, but not yet hit the spot for me – maybe on a return visit further down the road…

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  11. Miss Bunbury says:

    I haven’t read this book but have recently read The Green Road which I had similar feelings about. It was beautifully written but left me feeling a bit cold. I was a bit disappointed really!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I do feel a bit as though am shoring myself up for being disappointed a second time but will plod ahead with it and will see…. Confess am not feeling very motivated to start it…

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  13. Oh dear, I bought this on my last visit home and had to leave it at my parent’s house due to lack of suitcase space. I have to say that there are a few Booker prize winners that I haven’t enjoyed much, but I suppose that if we all liked the same thing the world would be very dull!

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  14. It’s true – and I agree that some of the prizewinners aren’t among my favourite reads either. Looking forward to enjoying more classics over the forthcoming months alongside all these modern winners…

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