Saturday, August 29, 2009
It's an absolute shame that any Irish writer with a modicum of talent is going to be instantaneously compared to James Joyce. Firstly, it's not fair, considering that Joyce was a unique genius, and secondly, even if the new writer has talent, it doesn't make it the same talent as Joyce. This brings me to Anne Enright's The Gathering, an Irish novel, in that it's about the Irish, and family, and booze, and obsessions.
The Gathering follows Veronica Hegarty as she, her eight siblings and her mother gather to bury Liam, their brother, an alcoholic who committed suicide. Veronica's complex relationships with each of her family members is highlighted, including her mother, a woman made crazy by having so many kids.
During this time, Veronica imagines the chance meeting between two men and her eventual grandmother in the distant past, and how this meeting affects them now in the present. Veronica also contemplates her views on sex and the opposite sex.
It all builds to a head and climaxes at the wake, where Veronica's dark secret that includes Liam is revealed to the audience and to some of the family.
This is a very cerebral and internal novel that isn't melodramatic or even dramatic at all. The narrator moves along in time simply commenting on everything and never judging. She can't even bother to muster anger at her mother. Veronica is a complex character, just like the individual members of her family, but I'm not sure if Veronica has anything interesting to say.
What struck me most about this novel was the narrator obsession with referring to meat or flesh when speaking of anything sexual, or anything to do with men. She would go to pains to describe a penis in the most physical and grotesque way possible. For sure there's a reason for that, along with her shaky and antagonist views on men, which relates the secret that's hinted at for most of the novel. Veronica's views on men are as close to offensive as they can be without completely alienating the audience.
Enright's prose is decent enough, but her real weakness in this novel is a lack of structure. The Gathering has a decidedly non-linear narrative; inherently not a negative thing. What makes it frustrating is the aimlessness of it. For a non-linear narrative to work, there has to be at least a story-structure to the telling of the non-events; there has to be a reason why it's non-linear. For example, and this is a very "pop" example, but in Kill Bill, the reason why Tarantino tells the story out of order is that the character's arc in not in order. The people she kills are not in order of importance right away, but the movie is structured around the importance of the kills. That's a reason for a non-linear narrative.
In The Gathering, Veronica's wandering through time strikes me as being pointless. There doesn't seem to be reason for the going back and forth. It feels like the novel would have been better had the novel followed a more visible structure.
It's irritating to compare Enright to Joyce, as the blurb on the front cover does, considering that they are very different writers. Joyce was a genius, who tried to rewrite the rules of the novel, and of the language used in a novel, where as Enright set out to compose, by her own admission, the Irish equilivalent of the Hollywood weepie.
I didn't find The Gathering to be anything remotely close to a weepie, though. I didn't find it sad at all. This novel was more disconcerting due to the narrator's obsession with gross physicality, and the aimlessness of the narrative. The characters were sharply defined, but I just didn't care for any of them.
The review is coming off overly negative, and this novel isn't terrible by any stretch. It just did nothing for me.