The Gathering by Anne Enright
I'm reading The Gathering, by Anne Enright. It won the Man Booker Prize for 2007. It's described as 'bleak'. Lots of reviews say 'bleak.' In fact, every review seems to say bleak.
There is something wonderful about 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 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 even to love you, even that, let alone find their own shoes under their own bed; people who turn and accuse you -- scream at you sometimes -- when they can find only one shoe.
Oh the pleasure of that, the pleasure of self-pity and the way it can give the illusion of release, that it is all right not to worry about the thousand tiny things of the day.
A good friend, a smart man, a writer, once told me that he had noticed that a lot of very smart women writers with apparently quite good lives wrote a kind of depressed fiction. This book is filled up to the brim with that. I am one of those women who write depressed fiction and I am actually trying to broaden my palate a little, and yet, what is it that made my friend feel that this was some sort of writerly pathology? Some sort of malady of the spirit that befell women?
I find that few books have fit me, have fit my psyche, my view of the world as well as The Gathering. Which isn't to say that it maps in well onto my life, either my day to day life or my inner life. The narrator of The Gathering, sleepless and grieving, is in the midst of dealing with her brother's death, and it has put her outside of her own life in a very precise way. But I find in this book a sensibility I resonate to. Sympathetic vibration, the way a struck tuning fork will set it's mate vibrating in sympathy.
I suppose there are people who find this sympathy, this vibration of voice with Dom Delillo, David Foster Wallace, or even Hunter S. Thompson. But much of literature has seemed to me admirable without feeling sympathetic. Not written to my frequency. There is a central conceit to The Gathering, that a single event can spiral outward through a whole life, shaping and more importantly, explaining everything, that I usually don't care for. Enright seems to be very smart about this. She compromises, and backsteps, and places doubts about the experience. But normally, that there even existed this central event would just put my teeth on edge--it's a hangover from Freud and the sort of pop culture belief that pathology arises out of childhood. Do childhood events sometimes damage? Yes but the whole experience of growing up is so chaotic that terrible events sometimes leave little scar, and the most apparently insignificant event can sometimes have devestating consequences. But I am so convinced by the voice that I do not care.