Anne Enright, 'Gathering' A Following

By Bob Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 16, 2008

NEW YORK -- One of the ways life has changed for Irish writer Anne Enright, who beat long odds last fall to win the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, is that loads of people now want to talk to her about her work -- specifically her winning novel, "The Gathering."

The bad news is that far too many of them employ the word "bleak" to describe it.

This puzzles her a bit.

It's true that her narrator's brother Liam has killed himself by filling his pockets with rocks and walking into the sea, and it's also true that the narrator, Veronica, a 39-year-old mother of two, is having an extremely hard time dealing with this. Here she is, gazing at the beach where Liam died:

"I look at my hands on the railings, and they are old, and my child-battered body, that I was proud of, in a way, for the new people that came out of it, just feeding the grave, just feeding the grave! I want to shout it at these strangers as they pass. I want to call for an end to procreation with a sandwich board and a megaphone."

"Oh, yes, it's grim," Veronica's creator concedes with cheerful irony. "But she isn't feeling her best."

More important, Enright thinks, is what happens in the long run, when this complex, family-haunted novel achieves "a hard-won happy ending."

No one would call Enright herself grim or bleak: She's far too sharp-witted and engaged.

A short woman of 45 with close-cropped dark hair, she is scrunched down in a chair in the offices of her American publisher, Grove/Atlantic. She's here as part of an extended post-Booker victory lap that will have her reading at Politics and Prose in Northwest Washington today.

The Booker goes to what its judges decide is the year's best novel by a citizen of the British Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland (Americans are not eligible). It can be transformative for a writer like Enright, whose work has tended to generate more praise than revenue.

Grove/Atlantic publisher Morgan Entrekin politely describes the sales of Enright's earlier novels as "extremely modest." This is why he decided to publish "The Gathering" as a paperback original, with a first printing of 8,000 or so. The hope was that skipping the hardback stage might cause the sales curve to at least start trending upward.

Not a problem now. "We're at 230,000 already," Entrekin says.

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