The Gathering

the hathering

 

“People do not change, they are merely revealed.”
Anne Enright, The Gathering

The Gathering is the fourth novel by Irish writer Anne Enright, and the first book I have read of hers. It has been my intention to read more Irish literature and you couldn’t get more stereotypically Irish than this book. Veronica and Liam – two siblings from a Catholic family of 12 children. As Veronica travels from Dublin to Brighton to claim her brothers body she recalls bits and pieces of her childhood with her favourite brother.

It was difficult to churn through Anne Enright’s clunky narrative or even warm to the protagonist Veronica, but I did enjoy reading the parts on Veronica’s thoughts on her marriage. I wonder how important our role is as a mother, just how much are we actually needed and how much of what we do is down to pure laziness from our children. When Veronica’s brother, Liam dies she knows that everything will go on with out her. A family death giving her an automatic ‘hall pass’ from her life, and for a short while she can flee from the suffocating responsibilities of a wife and mother and take some time to gather her thoughts.

“There is something wonderful about a death, how everything shuts down, and all the ways you thought you were vital are not even vaguely important. Your husband can feed the kids, he can work the new oven, he can find the sausages in the fridge, after all. And his important meeting was not important, not in the slightest. And the girls will be picked up from school, and dropped off again in the morning. Your eldest daughter can remember her inhaler, and your youngest will take her gym kit with her, and it is just as you suspected – most of the stuff that you do is just stupid, really stupid, most of the stuff you do is just nagging and whining and picking up for people who are too lazy to love you.”
Anne Enright, The Gathering

The Gathering won the 2007 Man Booker Prize and yet I couldn’t wait for the book to end. I am not a reader who normally shy’s away from gritty stoicism in my book choice, so why did I struggle through this book? It may be because the depressing themes pervading the book seemed to have no point and no summarisation at all. The problem is nothing really happens. In the end there is no story. The Gathering is a well written book, but it is a book written for writers rather than readers. Sometimes I think writers forget why they are writing a book, they write to be read after all and a reader wants a good story; to be entertained, thrilled and maybe even appalled a little, but they want a good story and The Gathering just doesn’t deliver.

That is why a book like The Gathering can have such disparate reviews, on one end of the scale are readers who simply enjoy a good story, the way it is written can easily be forgotten if it is a memorable and enjoyable read and on the other end are the high brow readers who pick a book apart for its structure and prose and the idea of an enjoyable plot line becomes lost and largely unimportant in their pursuit for that elusive of all things, ‘the perfect sentence’.

 

George Bernard Shaw

I am staying with a good friend for the weekend in her home in Letchworth Garden City in Hertfordshire, famed for the U.K.’s first ever roundabout…yes, honestly! I will endeavour to take a picture of the roundabout before I leave. We planned to visit George Bernard Shaw’s house close by (both being literary geeks).

George Bernard Shaw bequeathed his home in the quiet village of Ayot St Lawrence in Hertfordshire to the National Trust. The house at Shaw’s Corner has therefore been left as it was at Shaw’s death in November, 1950. George was born in Ireland and he and his wife, Charlotte lived in London, but increasingly spent their time in their home in Hertfordshire. Charlotte’s bedroom (on her request) has been turned into a museum room, the best part being the Oscar (for Pygmalion) and Nobel prize safely tucked away in a glass cabinet and under a thick green velvet robe. I have never seen either of these prestigious awards before. The house is nestled within an extraordinary large garden, with an enclosed wood cutting area, important in all the modern homes back then apparently, and a shed at the bottom of the garden with a simple desk, typewriter and even a cot bed, when you just need to lye down and think about what you are writing. I need one of those…one day ‘sigh’!

 

Lisey’s Story; Your Writer’s Story

“There are some things one simply does not speak about, not even among the various versions of one’s self”

Stephen King, Lisey’s Story

In an interview in 1993 Stephen King said: ‘The question which haunts and nags and won’t completely let go is this one: Who am I when I write?’ As writers we are often tortured by this question. Who are we when we write our darkest character traits or most twisted plot lines? Where does the story come from? As a writer you have to be a little more self-reflective than other people. You live in a world in your head, a world of your own making, that is only glimpsed and frustratingly rarely understood, once written and bound on paper.

For me the hardest part of writing has always been the imagined readers peering over my shoulder at what I write. A reader has the opportunity to peer into the soul of the writer, a private and often dark place. A world of our creation which we tap into for inspiration. Writer’s are very aware of this dark place and many writers feel compelled to write about the fear of who they are when they are writing, and where they fuel their imagination!

I am sure that for many writers the creative process can be a light place, a place of childhood sweethearts and happy endings. I don’t think that this is the point. The point is the creative pool we drink with abandon is a collection of our own personal experiences. This must always have a dark element, and this is what scares the writer, who is able to locate this pool and witness the most darkest parts of our soul. In Lisey’s Story the creative pool is a physical, not just imagined, portal to another world, a world of beauty and danger.

Authors like Stephen King have often portrayed fictional characters in their novels who are writers struggling with their own inner demons during the creative process; for example the inimitable Jack Torrance in the The Shining.  In Stephen King’s book, Lisey’s Story, the novelist Scott Landon shares his darker side with his wife Lisey (told from her side of the story through remembrance of their married life together). Scott delves into his own creative pool of imagination which he calls the ‘Boo’ya Moon’ and we have a glimpse of Stephen King’s own tortured mind as he asks this question ‘Who am I when I write?’.

Lisey’s Story is one of my favourite King stories, with Shawshank Redemption, Apt Pupil and Stand by Me. Though the book is hard to get into at first, it is full of annoying often grating slang like ‘smucking’ but the story is also full of humour, real and lasting love after death, the tortured labour of writing and indelible images like ‘a boy burying a corpse with a toy shovel’!

I love the last sentence to Lisey’s Story, it says so much without having to say anything at all. If you have read the book the strange and fanciful tone of this last sentence is a wonderful ending…

“Lisey went downstairs. For a moment her shadow stayed, and then it was gone too. The room sighed, then it was silent.”