As Anne Enright said in an interview shortly after winning the Man Booker Prize for her novel The Gathering, ‘The ships are coming in.’ It’s been a good week for women writers, that’s for sure. Back in June The Independent described The Gathering as ‘short in storyline but prodigious in the telling’; Enright herself has described the book as ‘The full Irish: black pudding, white pudding, the lot’. Blogger Dovegreyreader began by saying ‘Aha, here it is, the Booker Turkey’ and ended ‘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 a book that has received mixed reviews, often a sign of something interesting and good and long lasting. Enright said in an interview with Mark Thwaite: ‘The successful writer wrote about sixteen crap books, and kept working them, and rearranging them until one less crap book was born. Never look at your work and despair – this is hard, it takes nerves of steel – look at your work and then work at it.’
Maybe ships coming in isn’t the best metaphor here. Anne Enright lives in Bray, County Wicklow, a place I associate with hard work. One summer my wife and I toiled up Bray Head on a tandem after a ten days on the road with all our gear. We were hot, and tired, and we wanted an ice cream. About half way up, with the sun beating down and the heat rising from the tarmac, a man on a racing bike pulled up alongside and we talked a while about the trip as we turned the pedals. Reaching the top he pulled away shouting ‘you’ve been blessed’ back at us. And we had.