Man Booker Prize winner Anne Enright in conversation

First aired on Weekend Arts Magazine (4/8/13)

Irish novelist Anne Enright, who won the Man Booker Prize for her 2007 novel The Gathering, was recently in Newfoundland for the Winterset in Summer Festival, and she dropped by the WAM studio for a chat with host Angela Antle.

This was Enright's first visit to Newfoundland, and she brought her whole family on the trip. She told host Angela Antle that they were struck by the similarity between the Irish accent and that of the islanders'. "When you're Irish, people are always saying, oh, I love your accent, I love your accent. You get very bored with it and you get slightly defensive, so we're kind of careful not to discuss the Newfoundland accent with Newfoundlanders themselves. But it is quite an experience for an Irish person to hear fully Irish words mixed in with fully Canadian words."


Before writing fiction, Enright worked in the theatre. "I started off in the theatre, which is to say I started off being unemployed in an interesting way. I was acting a bit," she said. "I do feel there is a sense, when you're writing, that you're playing a role or that you're acting or that you're improvising." She added that her fiction progresses by scenes, almost as if blocked out in a play.

When asked to summarize The Gathering for those who haven't read it, Enright responded: "Story in my case is always simple and it's about how you tell it, really. The Gathering is about a woman who is mourning the death of her brother. Veronica lost her brother to suicide, and she comes from a huge family...," she said. "It is a book about fragmentation and loss and she thinks back into the deep history of her family."

She went on to say that it's difficult to describe the book adequately. "Some people hate it completely, which I don't mind, because it works quite intimately. It works in the inside of people's heads, and the voice of the narrator is a very close voice, it's slightly closer than the voice of a friend on the phone. It's slightly like the monologue in your own head when you're not feeling well, except not as repetitive."

Ultimately, Enright described it as "quite a lyrical book. It is the song of a woman who comes through. By the end of the book, she has come through this process of remembering, re-imagining, describing the past, and is able to live again, basically."

The main character is very angry, Enright said. "She is seething. And the people who hate the book hate the anger. It depends on where you are with regards to the anger of a narrator...whether you feel accused or whether you feel behind it, empathetic."

She added that "there's a lot of angry women around, and I don't know why it's so taboo to say that...Angry male characters are kind of seen as heroic and fine, in some way. Angry female characters are seen as complicated and annoying...we're very unsettled and disturbed by female anger."

Enright tends to write in the first person, so people often believe the narrator is actually her. "I go around getting big hairy looks from people...They're all facets of yourself, but they're not necessarily social ones, they're not ones you bring around with you," she said. She pointed out that Gina, the main character in her latest novel, is having an affair and "isn't angry at all. She's having a really good time and she doesn't care. She's a little bit uncaring, one might say."

The Gathering is also "about the way we tell the story of our lives, and that's what writings all about...that's why we need stories," Enright said. "Every five years we need a new story to tell ourselves about our lives so that we can proceed. It's like somewhere to stand, you know? So, yes, the book is constructed like someone telling the story of their life. Or retelling it. We have to break open the story every now and then, and re-form, in order to grow, I think, as people."

Enright is now working on another family novel. "The siblings are gone, and they have to come back to sort out their mother. This is a very common narrative... About love and responsibility and all the things that I quite like writing about."

To end the interview, Enright was asked about what her family hopes for as tourists in Newfoundland. "If we got sight of a whale, we could talk about it for the rest of our lives."

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