Book report: The Gathering

I read this more slowly than usual and the reason wasn't my lack of interest or a lapse in my usual intensity, it was the intensity of the book itself. In fact, I'll go so far as to say this is the most unflinching story I've read since Houllebecq's Atomised (or "Elementary Particles" as it was called here).

The tale itself is quite simple: A large Irish family congregates for the funeral of the main character's brother.


Apart from the dreadful larger narrative, there was so much that was disturbingly familiar: The complexity of large Irish families, their lacksidasical and yet pious Catholicism, the acquaintance from a young age with funereal rites (I wonder is this a cultural-religious thing, or merely a function of age-expectancy and family size). And then more banal things, like the copy-books we all used at school (with a round tower depicted on the cover).

But Enright's voice is the most disturbingly familiar thing of all. She's so utterly Irish in her darkest thoughts and her savage humour. She's perceptive yet abstruse. She one moment lulls you into the quietude of middle-class mediocrity ("oatmeal, cream, sandstone, slate") and the next jars you with a thought you're shocked she has shared.

Above all, she captures the vagaries of childhood memory and how those vivid but confusing remembrances can torment and define us as adults. The Gathering won the Man Booker in 2007. If you read it, trust me, there comes a beautiful catharsis in the wake of Enright's glittering prose.
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