Not an overly long book at 261 pages for which I’m eternally grateful, coz it was a hard enough read at this length. The book (although in parts it felt like I was reading a documentary), I can best describe as an almost anatomical dissection of grief. It is in its very basic skeleton, the story of what happens to one sibling after the loss of another. This is something I relate to on a deep and personal level having lost my brother just as Veronica does, although not to similar circumstance. I wonder if that makes a difference…the reason and mode of loss? In the end, when all is over, do suicides hurt more than murders, to the ones left behind? I don’t want to find out – that’s for sure. But although this is a familiar subject, it didn’t move me as I expected it to. No tears, no pity, no communion with Veronica who mourns in a way I didn’t, although I know I feel my loss just as passionately. I can’t explain it except to say; maybe it was because this was too close to my heart or because Veronica was so far removed from me as a person or because Enright’s stye of writing, verbose and often tortuous did nothing to make a complicated emotion like grief simple and tactile to me.
Granted, she does a brilliant job of describing Veronica’s descent into grief. She’s able with her phenomenal word skills to bring out the rawness of it onto paper, in a way that reminds me of Esther’s descent into depression in The Bell Jar by Plath. But where I found the latter an easy read style-wise, this one had me shaking my head often wondering where the author was going next! I found it hard to keep up with her rapid and sudden leaps from the past into the present, from uncertain memories into reality, from one sibling to another, from the ghosts to the living. All this shuttling back and forth left me feeling disjointed and confused and ultimately irritated. Although now as I type, maybe that’s what she was going for – grief in real life can leave one disjointed after all. Perhaps that’s why this book didn’t touch me as I thought it would, indeed was prepared for it to. And yet although I found the book rather morbid and overly morose, I understand why it won the Booker. It forces the reader to think and analyse and then sets you free to draw your own conclusions. But it doesn’t make any of it easy. It offers up the debris of human life and emotions for your inspection and then lets you make of it what you will. I want to like this book. I recognize the brilliance of her language and the depth of her talent and yet somehow it fails to move me in that seminal way that I crave.
This book is an excellent example of why I used to shy away from award-winners – it leaves me uncertain of how I feel and guilty that I cannot be moved by a book which ‘people in the know’ find worthy of reward. It makes me feel somehow diminished as a reader and that’s not a pleasant feeling. That said, I must confess that I’m not sure I would recommend it if not for Enright’s brilliant word skills. I wish there was more soul to the book, but perhaps there is, perhaps too much for me to comprehend. So the best I can do is say ‘Read at your own risk.’ with a disclaimer of ‘Wallowing in Grief is injurious to sanity.’ If it were up to me, I would have picked The Reluctant Fundamentalist for the Prize! Enough said!
I’m going to take a short well-deserved break from the Bookers, possibly because the next book is one that I have for reasons obscure, studiously avoided all these years – The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai 😛 But also coz having read 5 in a row, I desperately need one from all this excellence 😉 Time for good ole Ms. Christie 🙂