Tuesday, 25 March 2008

More on 'The Gathering'

Cover to cover, this book is memorable for so many reasons.

From a writer's perspective it is one of those you know you will learn from. It's just so good. The writing is brilliant, the whole peeling away layers of character, layers of story, until the centre is reached. And it's a sad centre, but one that does not surprise when it comes.

The reader becomes part of The Gathering. Complicit, judgemental as much as they are. You become so aware of the people, the tensions, always tensions, the small cruelties.

Enright says somewhere in the book that people don't change, they reveal themselves. I went to sleep last night with that thought uppermost in my mind. And how, if I can take one thing away from this book as a writer, it's a deeper understanding that character is story.

One of the things that creates character is voice. And here, the voice is true, straight, unmanipulative.

I was fascinated to see on The Guradian book blog from the time of the Booker award, more than a little sniping about The Gathering. Assertions were made that Animal's People was a far better book.

I bought Animal's People at the time, rather than the winner, because it sounded fascinating.

I couldn't get into it, and have not read right through. I felt overtly manupulated by the writer, who was all over the pages like spilled soup. The voice was nothing... not coherent, not authentic in character, far far too aware, articulate, educated for the character it was meant to be portraying... it did not hold up to much scrutiny, and I can understand why it didn't win.

I felt manipulated too by the 'feeling' behind the book.. 'Lets create a really misshapen Calibanesque person... make him say 'Fuck' every few paragraphs... that'll sell!!"

and it does sell, sure, but it's not good enough.

At no point in The Gathering did I feel I was being manipulated. I felt I was instead in the hands of a strong, interesting intelligent writer who didn't need to use sensationalism to sell her story to me. When the revelations come, as they do, they are lightly done, as is the whole. Clever. I saw what happened as a child would see it, and as an adult. And far more importantly, as a reader... I was not fed the scenes cut up piecemeal, delivered in primary colours for me to watch like a bad B movie.

I was led to the scenes, slowly but inexorably downhill, so my feet wouldn't stop. And I was complicit, because I met the writer halfway.


Sarah Hilary said...

Your review of The Gathering makes me want to buy this book - thanks for the recommendation.

Vanessa G said...

I just added a little bit more! Do read it, we can talk about it in the car!

Sarah Hilary said...

I'm going to buy it tomorrow when I'm in London. I love what you say about complicity - I always think the best writing is that which needs (and encourages) the reader's participation. It can make for a mixed reaction from readers but it's a more satisfying read for those prepared to put in the effort.

Women Rule Writer said...

It made me glad I write too, Vanessa. Anne E's writing has always had this effect on me. I love her searing honesty. Great review.

Vanessa G said...

Thank you so much for the shove... I would have missed something special.

I don't think I've consciously felt the 'glad I write' thing before.

yes, the writing is 'honest'... so much so that it's holding up a mirror, using it to shine light back at the reader so the reader is dazzled, uncomfortable, but at the same time confronting themselves in a strange way. Fantastic stuff.

Vanessa G said...

Glad you are going to read, Sarah. Look forward to your reactions.

Shameless said...

Yes, this is on my list too. I almost bought it in Dublin last weekend, but I already had too many books in the basket! I will definitely get it. That face that stares out of the cover is haunting, knowing what the story is about. :-)

Vanessa G said...

Great stuff... I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

OSLO said...

'At no point in The Gathering did I feel I was being manipulated. I felt I was instead in the hands of a strong, interesting intelligent writer who didn't need to use sensationalism to sell her story to me.'
I couldn't agree more Vanessa! I think the book is amazing, to the point that I didn't want to reshelve it after finishing it and moved it around from room to room, gazing at the cover, wanting desperately to be able to write like Anne Enright. Sigh!

Vanessa G said...

Hello Oslo! As I type, the book is by the side of my laptop. As are three other books, but I can't quite bring myself to... not yet... actually, I might just read The Gathering again...

and shall we form a fan club??!

OSLO said...

Oh yes, I like the sound of that Vanessa!