September 2007

Ling Ma

fiction

The Gathering by Anne Enright

“I would like to write down what happened to my grandmother’s house the summer I was eight or nine, but I am not sure if it really did happen,” begins Veronica Hegarty, the protagonist of Anne Enright’s fourth novel. Narrated in retrospect after her brother Liam’s death, the novel follows Veronica’s loping meditations triggered by her closest sibling’s suicide and her increasing distance from her coddled upper-middle class life.

Like many of her novels, The Gathering reads like Enright takes a coherent story, disassembles the plot first, then pieces everything back together a second time. With more than one narrative thread, she stitches the story together with imagined histories, feathery tufts of ruminitions, and sharp flecks of poetry. The ensuing result is a disorienting, hardscrabble, but extremely pretty read.

A common theme in earlier works that’s more noticeable here, Enright fixates and marvels at the plain biological facts of sex with the consequential emotional realities of family. “There were eleven months between me and Liam,” recalls Veronica. “We came out of her on each other’s tails; one after the other, as fast as a gang-bang, as fast as an infidelity. Sometimes I think we overlapped in there, he just left early, to wait outside.” This is probably a good time as any to interject that, not for nothing, Enright is one of the best writers of sex, in all its weirdness and occasional transcendence, that you’re ever going to read.

But by the time you find out what Veronica may have witnessed about her brother in her grandmother’s house years ago, you wonder if it even really matters. It’s one of the predicaments of reading Enright that I’ve never really resolved: her prose can be so gun-slingingly sublime, but the narration is often so footloose that it almost overrides the plot and characters themselves.

Enright, whose terrific first collection of short stories The Portable Virgin I still haven’t forgotten since reading in college, has been better known in her homeland of Ireland than in the US. Maybe it’s because she’s a difficult read, with transitions that come out of the blue. In a subconscious ebb and flow that doesn’t cease, Enright tugs you somewhere, then somewhere else.

The Gathering by Anne Enright
Black Cat
ISBN: 0802170390
272 Pages