Tuesday, 23 August 2016

The Gathering - Anne Enright

Just a few thoughts on this novel that really impressed me, the author of which was recommended to me by Ailsa Cox.

A few years ago, the most disturbing book I'd read was Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho. This was striking in a plottish way and, though you might want to argue that contentually  it was gratuitous, I see it as a structural archetype. The alternation between droning, asymptotic capitalism and rampant, relentless 'masculsim' [and it could be argued that it's not much of an alternation] is, well, powerful... provoking. Then I read Conrad Williams' Head Injuries, based on Nicholas Royle's advice. This is a different kettle of fish, bit more supernatural, but I found it even more disturbing. The magical potency of William's descriptions really brought the unreal to life, made me sick with anticipation and imagination [and you might say that it being set in my home town of Morecambe might make it an easier goal, but I believe I can separate my emotional vulnerability from my appraisal of authorial mastery]. Then I read The Gathering.

Enright's use of language is possibly the most disturbing, and potent, I think I've ever read, on many linguistic levels. Whether it's intentionally ambiguous sentences, odd commas, a clunky 'straight pun', jarring descriptions or insertion of song/quote/foreign language or whatever else: the effect at times, on purely language-based grounds, was really disconcerting. I felt it was the duty of all literature, especially of this calibre, to be so unsettling. It also displayed elements of the supernatural, plus a focus on the darkness of life, not just death but certain 'comedies of life' ["...five quid for a brandy in your mourning coffee..."] and the battle between truth, life and memory.

One thing I kept thinking was how great it would be as an example of literature to study. Well, maybe that's not the right thing to say necessarily, but what I mean is that it's such an example of literariness. And I'll be the first to admit that there were certain elements that left me behind in terms of their intellectualism, you know, some of the sentences had me re-read them a few times and still not quite get what was meant. But that's not a bad thing for me. It's the mix of general poeticness, of dialect, of the overall defamiliarization/terror of the words in short or long combinations that makes this novel so powerful, and a couple of 'eh?' moments didn't derail my overall understanding or enjoyment.

There's so many ways I want to praise it, and some of them are so contradictory; its lightness of touch versus its macabre close-up dissection of certain scenes; its narrator - unreliable to the point of admitting how hopeless she is at remembering whilst being so honest as to give us no choice but to like/sympathise/trust; perhaps the best observations of humanity I've ever seen [have NEVER read men written as they are in this book, and again, there's a grimly humorous total truth in her words] mixed with some speculative musings, thereby contrasting assuredness with doubt; some of the realest, most natural feelings, thoughts, reactions mixing with the surreal, the artful and the supernatural [i.e. physically manifested ghosts].

I really was so ravenous when I read it. I chowed down nearly half of it in one go which, for me, is a lot in one sitting. I'm not an entirely 'natural' reader, in the sense I just sit down and easily get through it all. The descriptions of place were enchanting - not quite in the way the Montalbano series is painted in vivid pastel, but more in the slight dourness of an inexperienced tourism office - and I have to give special mention to the way she deals with airports. Ah, just read it to find out what I mean. And the difficulty of ending such a 'journey' is inevitable, yet Enright handles this so well too.

If you've read it, I'd love to know what you think. I know it's won awards, but what do you think? Even as I'm writing about it months after I experienced it first, there's a vibrant lingering. If I wasn't reading other things, I'd be tempted to read it again. Anyway, check it out if you want. It's great.