Aha, here it is, this is bound to be it...the Booker Turkey.
Maliciously burnt hole in photo on the cover, big miserable Irish family, too many children to name, not enough clean clothes to go round, death, grief, the Catholic church, ah yes, some covert sexual abuse, good, good, all the makings of highly pretentious load of old...a winner in fact.
So I started The Gathering by Anne Enright thinking I was going to hate it, no, why mess about, I was going to absolutely loath it.
Things got off to a very promising start in that case with the narrative keeping me at arm's length, fractionally out of the loop.
I couldn't quite grasp what was happening, what's this all about?
Veronica is one of twelve Hegarty children, a vast sprawling Dublin family, her mother actually what we'd call in the trade a para twelve but a gravida nineteen, so seven lost babies in amongst them all.Under those circumstances you can certainly forgive the poor woman her increasing state of confusion and for having her preferences amongst such an enormous brood.
I'm starting to melt a bit.
Veronica's brother Liam has committed suicide in grand Woolfian style but on Brighton seafront, stones in the pocket the lot and having arranged to identify the body and bring him back to Ireland there is the matter of the wake and the funeral to be endured.Those dispatch occasions often the only time along with the hatches and the matches when big families all get together to celebrate, commiserate or a bit of both.
By now I'm quite intrigued because somehow this book is different.
The more I read the more I was dragged in kicking and screaming and made to stay, word by word, line by line, page by page ...noooooo I want to hate this book...but the voice just kept on creeping up on me insistently until eventually Anne Enright conquered me with her writing.
OK Anne, you win...and this might justifiably even snatch the Victor Ludorum in this brave new Booker world and I wouldn't be disappointed.
I was at Veronica's side living and breathing every single moment with her. At one with her confusions and uncertainties, her thoughts, her repetitions her reactions.and above all her slow acceptance and assimilation of her life.
Life's every single sadness lies within these pages alongside the irritations, the griefs and the losses of a disparate family down through the generations and Veronica seems to have soaked up more than her fair share. But believe me when I tell you, you can trust Anne Enright to avoid all the usual traps and pitfalls ready and waiting in miserable old Ireland and only one mention of Irish dancing that I can recall and not a whisper of that Flatley chap.
As the wake, liberally laced with alcohol, gathers momentum
"something has happened to this family, the knot has come loose"
and gradually the ties of the years unbind and the truths start to work their way to the surface.
"because the place Liam worked best was under your skin"
so too does Anne Enright with her half-glimpses of a transitory moment often caught at a glance in Veronica's less than assured childhood memory,
"I was eight or nine but I'm not sure if it really did happen".
Passing thoughts sheer off in all directions, barely touching but often of deep significance in the grand scheme of things.
I love chapters which start with lines like
"I saw a man with tertiary syphilis at Mass once".
Yes, I fell into step with the pulse and beat of this book very quickly, it is indeed from a different drum and I don't think everyone will surrender to it as I have, but to Anne Enright's eternal credit if I'd had the time I would have turned right back to the beginning and read it all over again.
It's firmly on my shortlist and if it doesn't make the real one then I shall be the one keening and lamenting quietly in the corner.
Even better you lucky, lucky people, as if I haven't been kind enough to you already this week and as a reward for reading this post to the very end, here's another one that I have in duplicate, so names in comments again for a lovely free copy of The Gathering.