Context: Finished burning off our piles of old paperwork as I finished reading this.
Right off the bat I’ll say that this is one of the most disappointing Booker winners that I’ve read. Usually, I can settle down into a chair with a Booker and within 20 pages I’m deep into some amazing literature. This book never quite took me there.
It’s the story of a woman and her dysfunctional modern Irish family, both nuclear and extended. I couldn’t find a single character I wanted to remain in the same room with. The book has the same melancholy feel to it as The Heather Blazing but Enright never reaches the heights of Toibin’s prose and the melancholy soon spills over into the dismally depressing.
The character who your trapped inside of has a predisposition to see things as Freud did. Take this excerpt:
As if the world was built on a lie and that lie was very secret and very dirty. But I don’t think empires or cities or even five-bedroom detached houses are built on the sordid fact that people have sex. I think they are built on the sordid fact that people have mortgages. Even so my husband shags me the night of my brother’s wake…
I simply don’t understand that second sentence. And there were slightly too many sentences like that for me to feel comfortable between Enright’s covers.
What was good about it? Well, Enright does put me in the mind of an Irish woman going through a mid-life crisis, dealing with the unexpected death of a brother she seems to have had a love-hate relationship with and realising that certain fleeting images from childhood have long-term influences that far outweigh their brevity.
But this has been done before, many, many times and I can’t really see what Enright brings to the feast that is original. She can write, no doubt. But win the Booker? Well, it must have been an average year, that’s all I can say. [EDIT in 2014: I’ve just realised that this beat the marvellous On Chesil Beach to the Booker. It was not an average year at all. It was a travesty.]
Worth reading? I’m not sure it would be worth your while. But if you feel like a depressing, cynical look at family life, go ahead and knock yourself out.