Spare Me The Eloquence: Declan Burke On … The Booker Prize Winner
What a difference a week makes. Sales of THE GATHERING jumped by almost 900% in the week following Anne Enright’s Booker prize win, up from 649 copies one week to 5,481 the next. Better still, the controversy over whether it was the best book in the competition or only snuck up on the inside as a result of a split vote meant Enright managed to win the sympathy vote along with a big fat cheque. I bought a copy, but only because my wife’s book group had picked THE GATHERING as next month’s excuse to polish off a few bottles of Shiraz. Will I be reading it when she’s finished? Nope. The rave reviews put me off. Practically every one of them purrs about how wonderful a writer Enright is, a fabulous stylist, an elegant wordsmith, and all that jazz. Practically none of them mention the story, which is apparently about a dysfunctional Irish family with some class of a sex abuse scandal lurking in the cupboard along with the skeletons. Now, if I want to read words in their best order, I’ll read poetry. But I don’t. When I read I like a rollicking good story, something that’ll pull me in so deep that I can’t hear the iPod of the loony behind me on the 46A, who has ‘The Final Countdown’ cranked up to 11 at eight-thirty in the morning. Besides, a lot of the reaction to the book reckoned that Enright’s win would be an inspiration to Irish literary women. Which is (a) sexist to men, (b) condescending to women, and (c) ignorant of all the brilliant women writers already out there. There’s a fantastic range of new talents in the crime fiction genre alone, and collectively they offer a bewildering diversity of story types. Tana French writes from a first-person male perspective in her police procedural INTO THE WOODS. Cora Harrison writes historical novels set in the 15th century, featuring a female Brehon judge. Arlene Hunt takes on the classic private eye style, but gives it a Moonlighting twist with her male-and-female partnership. Claire Kilroy’s novels, the latest of which is TENDERWIRE, are literary thrillers. Ingrid Black’s THE JUDAS HEART was published last week, the latest in a series of post-feminist thrillers starring an ex-FBI agent on the mean streets of Dublin. KT McCaffrey writes a cracking series featuring investigative reporter Emma Boylan, even though ‘KT’ is actually a bloke. Fine writers one and all, but with this in common – their reviews concentrate on their ability to tell a story, not their flair for a poetic phrase. Good luck to Anne Enright, and hearty congrats on her big win, but she’s too good a writer for me.
This article was first published in the Evening Herald
“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.