Sunday, 20 May 2007

The Gathering by Anne Enright

The Gathering
Anne Enright
Jonathan Cape

MISERY is more enticing for the writer than the reader, and it may be that only the more devoted literary types will read on through Anne Enright's gloom-filled novel of a huge dysfunctional Irish family.

All happy families are the same, as Tolstoy pointed out - but so are all big families, according to Enright. (How did she resist using this hommage as her actual opening line?)

Every big family, she writes, has its star, with a selection of houses in exotic locations, to which none of the others are invited, each has a drunk, an abused child - oh, wait, her fictional family, the Hegartys, don't have this - or do they?

Enright has chosen an unreliable narrator, a wonderful device for the writer who uses it intelligently.

Her narrator isn't quite sure of the story, and tells each beautifully wrought scenelet hesitantly. The couple who meet in a hotel and watch each other - will they be lovers, will they be friends? The Broadstone visit - was there abuse, was there just a family holiday?

And as narrator Veronica tracks back her story from her brother's death, unpicking the things she thinks she thought she once maybe knew, Enright's writing is, as always, spectacular.

A book for long and leisured reading to enjoy its nuanced pleasures.

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