May 25, 2017

Anne Enright and "The Gathering" at AWF17

Thanks to Chelsea from Central Library for this blog post and fan mail combo!

If you thought your days of pushing and elbowing your way into a theatre were behind you, think again. The ladies (and a splattering of men) of the Auckland Writers Festival were here to see Anne Enright and there was no stopping them. Even the sacred reserved seating stood no chance. If you’re unfamiliar with Anne Enright, she is Ireland’s current Fiction Laureate and winner of the Man Booker Prize for her 2007 novel The Gathering. Personally I’ve been slow to the Anne Enright party, having read only one of her books. However, said book The Green Road completely blew my mind, so I was keen to hear more of what she had to say.

Kate De Goldi, award-winning author in her own right, chaired the event and opened with a quote from The Green Road, “I’m sorry I can’t invite you to dinner, I’m Irish and my family is mad”. This fairly succinctly sums up Enright’s writing, with much of her work focussing on the family unit with a dose of Irish humour.

To begin with, De Goldi and Enright discussed the roles within The Green Road, in particular the role of the mother. With the theme of motherhood being so important in Irish tradition and Enright being a mother herself, she has a keen interest in breaking stereotypes and exploring women in all their imperfection. Rosaleen, the mother in The Green Road, is a needy woman who is so angry that her adult children have all left her that she decides to sell the family home to spite them. Her self-indulgence is in contrast to her daughter’s selflessness as a dutiful wife, mother and daughter. The two sons in the novel represent Irish migration, with one being an aid worker travelling to far-flung places like the Irish missionaries did, and the other taking the traditional route of New York.

Enright’s writing is structured and concise which is necessary in a book that spans decades. What isn’t said in Enright’s novels is just as important as what is, as when Dan’s homosexuality is not named when the reader first meets Dan as a teenager in Ireland, but when we meet him again in 90s New York, he is free to express himself. Enright explains that she did not address his sexuality at first because she ‘had to wait for the world to catch up’.

De Goldi and Enright then touched on the novel The Forgotten Waltz, another book that explores the complexities in women; their loves, mistakes and sexual desires. It was at this point that Enright’s sardonic humour really shone, as she lamented the ongoing fight for feminism. Speaking of women’s rights in Ireland, she told us how the abortion referendum began in the 80s, a referendum that is still continuing today. She had the audience in hysterics when saying “We forgot that sex produces children – if you read a newspaper you’d think sex produces bikinis”. She also garnered applause when she said that by writing about families she “risks being described as domestic – another word for female and not very important. Which is bullshit”. If Enright ever runs for president she has my vote.

After a brief reading it was time for questions, which ironically all came from men, a fact that was not lost on my disgruntled neighbour. I couldn’t blame her, I too was thinking it strange. To be fair however, the first questioner did tell us about his love for feminism and his daughters, as well as his whole backstory, as is often the case with those daring enough to brave the microphone.

As the session wrapped up Enright praised De Goldi for her high quality questions, suitable praise for De Goldi as she had clearly done her research. Then the applause was over and the race was on again, this time to be the first in the signing queue. I somewhat regretted my choice to sit at the front of the theatre as I set my face in grim determination to make it out.

A good twenty minutes later I had my recently purchased copy of The Gathering signed. I had meant to tell Enright of my love for Ireland but I became completely starstruck and barely muttered a syllable. Placing my embarrassment aside, I set off to find a strong coffee, turned the pages of The Gathering to its first chapter, breathed in the new book smell, and began to read.

Ditulis Oleh : Karen Craig // 17:48


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