Sam's Reviews > The Gathering

The Gathering by Anne Enright
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Jan 26, 09

it was amazing
bookshelves: novels
Read in January, 2009

It takes a grand prose stylist to make a novel with no plot, aimless structure, and unclear resolution float for three-hundred-odd pages, and Anne Enright is that kind of stylist. I don't want to use the term "stylist," really; it reminds me of somebody like Nabakov, somebody with such a deep bag of tricks that he acts like a magician, somebody with the element of artifice hanging over everything. Anne Enright isn't interested in tricking you, or creating an elaborate house of cards. She's interested in making you squirm. There were moments reading this book when I was forced to put my book down, spine up, and just shiver with something between joy and disgust. On the trolley, no less. It's that good, and that unsettling.

The secret to Enright's prose, I think, is that she is so deeply interested in how things happen to people at the level of their bodies; when she writes about shame, for instance, she registers it as a physical response: the characters shake and clench their teeth and feel like their skin is being sloughed off. This approach has two notable strengths. Firstly, the reader has a much easier time resisting images than resisting sensations. A well-drawn simile doesn't make me shiver on public transportation, most of the time. The second is that by translating abstract emotions into sensations, Enright strips them of their certainty; you and I might agree that shame is a wasted emotion, but how do you construct a moral argument against a shiver?

This is ostensibly a novel about a family that is grieving over their brother walking into the sea, but I think its central conceit is that life often lives you, not the other way around, that it acts upon your body and your body responds, sometimes without your permission, and that there is something horrible about that fact. This is one of the best novels I have read in recent years, and a rare example of form mirroring function so perfectly that the final work can actually be called beautiful. Not lyrical, or kitschy, or clever. Just beautiful.
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