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”.
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”.
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