by Anne Enright
In awarding Anne Enright the Man Booker Prize this year for The Gathering, the judges described her novel thus: 'depressing and exhilaratingly bleak'. They chose their words judiciously. Centring on a suicide, the story is of a large Irish clan whose surviving members come together for the funeral in Dublin of the beloved yet wayward Liam Hegarty. One of 12 siblings, he tidies his things one day, walks into the sea in Brighton and drowns himself. His closest sister in age, Veronica, tries to uncover the roots of his despair, which means trawling through the history of their dysfunctional family and darting back and forth in time from the dark present to the murky past, when the children lived with their grandparents. As narrator, Veronica reveals much of her own sad, newly middle-class life, which includes a sex-deprived husband, two children (who seem almost incidental) and a show-off car. Grappling with her own dissatisfaction and sleeplessness, she jogs her memory to return to what happened way back when, which shouldn't come as a surprise to the attentive reader. Sex, lust and tension fill the pages, as do rage and the machine that is the priapic, self-serving male. Not everyone will accept the Booker judges' decision, but Enright has at least stirred emotions.