Critical Overview

In 2007, Irish author Ann Enright was awarded the the Man Booker Prize for her novel The Gathering. The Man Booker prize is the most prestigious and profitable literary award in the United Kingdom. The prize comes with a large sum of money as well as increased book sales because of the exposure and international acclaim.

References comparing Enright to famed fellow Irish author James Joyce have become somewhat commonplace. “Veronica [the novel’s protagonist],” writes Peter Heinegg, a critic for America, “is like [James] Joyce’s hard-bitten, invisible male narrator, but without the genteel euphemisms.” Enright is not a Joyce clone, however. One of the main differences between the two author’s styles, Heinegg pointed out, is that Enright’s narrator is much more honest.

An anonymous reviewer for the Washington Post also mentioned the correlation between Joyce and Enright. “Anger brushes off every page, a species of rage that aches to confront silence and speak truth at last. The book’s narrative tone echoes Joan Didion’s furious, cool grief, but the richest comparison may be with James Joyce’s Dubliners.”

Not everyone enjoyed Enright’s The Gathering. The novel's narrator jumps back in time without much warning and then confesses that the version of her story may be corrupted by time. Michael Upchurch, writing for the Seattle Times, has other reasons for disliking this novel. “Veronica is so self-pitying and self-absorbed that no clear detail about anyone in her life emerges from the endless me me me.” But in spite of these difficulties, Pauline Ferrie, writing for the Boston Irish Reporter, disagrees, arguing, “‘The Gathering’ is not an easy read (the first-person narrative jumps from subject to subject in an at times disconcerting fashion), but the honesty of the observations make for a compelling novel.” Liesl Schilling, a critic for the New York Times Book Review, sees the novel through a different light. “Her [Enright’s] prose often ravishes and sometimes repels: reading her can be like staring into the lustrous surface of a lake, trying to discern the dangers lurking beneath.”

Most critics see through the challenges of reading this novel and find the genius of the author’s skills. Tim Rutten of the Los Angeles Times says, “Enright has written a wonderfully elegant and unsparing novel that takes the old Irish subjects of family dysfunction and the vagaries of memory into territory made fresh by an objectivity so precise it seems almost loving in its care.” Similarly, the Booklist’s Joanne Wilkinson concludes her review with this: “Enright’s hypnotic prose turns her desperation into something fierce and beautiful.”