Anne Enright - Assises Internationales du Roman 2010
Anne Enright reading from The Gathering
The Gathering is Anne Enright's fourth novel. It tells us about the narrator's inner journey following the death of her brother...
"I would like to write down what happened in my grandmother's house the summer I was eight or nine, but I am not sure if it really did happen. I need to bear witness to an uncertain event. I feel it roaring inside me - this thing that may not have taken place. I don't even know what name to put on it. I think you might call it a crime of the flesh, but the flesh is long fallen away and I am not sure what hurt may linger in the bones.
"My brother Liam loved birds and, like all boys, he loved the bones of dead animals. I have no sons myself, so when I pass any small skull or skeleton I hesitate and think of him, how he admired their intricacies. A magpie's ancient arms coming through the mess of feathers; stubby and light and clean..."
An interview with Anne Enright
This interview was filmed at the Hotel du Collège in Lyon, during the 2010 edition of the Assises Internationales du Roman.
Clifford Armion: First I'd like to ask you about the way you relate to Irish culture? I was thinking of Roman Catholicism and the Irish meaning of family that you describe so well in your books.
Anne Enright: A writer's culture is a great resource and a great annoyance. At the end of the Portrait of the Artist, Stephen Dedalus, the character in this bildungsroman, said he was going to leave Ireland and that his mission was to forge, in the smithy of his soul, the uncreative conscience of his race. This is a kind of imperative that Irish authors have taken on. Somehow they have something to say about this cultural process of becoming. Ireland has always been a series of stories that we tell ourselves. I think that's the same of any culture, that we tell stories about it: it's a myth, it's made up of myths.
One of the challenges is to tell new stories or to go beneath those false stories and try to get something real. It's a strong relationship, but not always a happy one.
C.A.: Your first novels were compared to the writings of Flann O'Brien. Do you consider yourself as part of an Irish literary tradition?
A.E.: The Irish literary tradition has very few women in it, so I'm both part of it and not part of it. That isn't the only dividing factor. On the level of the sentence and of the paragraph and of the fiction making, there are two kinds of separate traditions in Ireland. One of them sticks very close to the world and is very plain style. If you look at the work of John McGahern, he would be a very good example of this. There is tenacity about the world and the word: they stick very close together. Whereas if you take the work of Flann O'Brien, he took his modernism from Joyce, he was playful, the words were part of a game and there was a lot of pleasure in the game. Nothing was taken too seriously and he didn't stick to the world at all: everything was possible. And so that freedom is something I was very happy to take part of, to use in my own work.
C.A.: You've worked for television as a producer and director. Is there a relation between your work as a television director and your work as a writer in the way you relate to the public?
A.E.: Sure. I had a job in the late 80's and early 90's when Ireland was still very poor. But Britain was booming and there were various modern things going on in the European context and in America. I was slightly out of sync with the times but the idea of the fast cutting of television and the way the camera moves, the freedom it gives you; all of this informed my early work, certainly. And there was the idea of something contemporary, looking more urgent, a little quicker, a little more happening than these very beautiful contemplative books that were being brought out at the time in Ireland.
C.A.: You wrote a collection of essays entitled Making Babies: Stumbling into Motherhood which I think met with considerable success. What was your motivation for writing a non fiction book at that particular time?
A.E.: They used to say that you'd lose a tooth for every baby. I have heard writers say 'you lose a book for every baby' and I didn't want to lose a book. What I was frightened of was that I would lose all my books, that it would be the end. I'm a full time writer and I need to earn money. I couldn't write anything else. I was so consumed by this experience. I was so overwhelmed, so interested, and I also thought, like all mothers think, that this has happened to nobody before. So I wrote that book partly in response to requests, because I had written a little about this and people said 'Oh you must write more about this' because the tone I had was ringing bells in people's heads. So I just continued. I knew that whatever I said, it was enough, because it was an immediate response. It was like taking photographs, taking photographs of my children. Everything changed so fast that I said I must write it down before I lose it.
I'm still quite fond of it, unlike my other books. It isn't about success or failure. All writers feel that they will do better next time, with their next book. There is no getting it right or wrong with the baby book: I just had to say what was.
C.A.: After you won the Man Booker Prize for The Gathering, you told Stuart Jeffries from The Guardian that you wanted to explore desire and hatred. How do you confront these two notions within the novel?
A.E.: I specifically wanted to look at the darker side of desire, partly in response to a very strong male tradition in which the sexuality is as dark as possible. I wondered how it would be like to do it from a female perspective. In fact the book is quite a lot about the darkness of male desire and the connection between desire and hatred. The narrator, Veronica, spirals out of her life and the entire world becomes somehow sexualised for her, though she doesn't know what she herself desires anymore. She reads the world very strongly in these partly antagonistic terms because of what had happened to her brother when he was young.
I often write about desire but it's anything from a spiritual desire to plain hunger or a kind of wanting. In one of my books, The Pleasure of Eliza Lynch, the character has a great urge to consumption, but it's goods and products and objects which become important for her. So yes, that energy is something that I'm always interested in: how we manage it. You could even say ambition is a desire. It's not just sexual desire.
C.A.: I read somewhere that this bleak family saga was not at all autobiographical: what were your sources of inspiration for this family nightmare?
A.E.: I'm often asked whether my work is autobiographical and I say 'I hope not'. I don't do inspiration. I don't believe something lands like a bird on your desk. I'm very anxious about the notion of ideas coming from elsewhere because if they come from elsewhere they can also be withheld: they might not come. My thoughts about the book were to do with the lines between imagination and memory, between memory and history. The family stuff, to me, was incidental. It was just a natural story that helped my concerns. All that material was available to me. When I grew up I knew large families; I knew how Liam would die, it was just culturally there. It was in the air. Things become available all the time to be said. These kinds of things were becoming more available in the 90's in Ireland when the discourse was a very private one. Importantly, I think that apart from general politics, there was a lot going on in terms of people telling the truth about the past and scraping away a kind of redundant power and particularly the power of the Catholic Church. People were talking about what happened to children in institutions. They didn't really talk about what happened within the family although the family is a main theatre for that particular drama. But it was a disempowering of the church, among other things, and an empowering of children which I think happened all over Europe. Children started to be listened to for the first time. Power is very difficult in a postcolonial situation like Ireland. The children were listened to even less than in other countries. That was all available to me. I didn't set out to explore that. I had some other idea.
C.A.: How did people in Ireland react to the book? It is quite critical toward a number of traditional Irish values.
A.E.: The book in Ireland has always been both a private and a free place. I think that has something to do with the Catholic Church. You could read Joyce when you were growing up and you could experience the freedom within his work. My mother could do that and my grandmother could do that. Even in the stuffiest times, even in the most claustrophobic days, books always were free.
Pour citer cette ressource :
"Anne Enright - Assises Internationales du Roman 2010", La Clé des Langues [en ligne], Lyon, ENS de LYON/DGESCO (ISSN 2107-7029), juin 2010. Consulté le 02/10/2023. URL: https://cle.ens-lyon.fr/anglais/litterature/entretiens-et-textes-inedits/anne-enright-assises-internationales-du-roman-2010