It’s been a long time since I’ve settled into a long read with a book that compels me. Valentine’s weekend, anticipating the forecasted dip into an artic freeze, I climbed the winding stairs to the Newton Free Library’s second floor lined with shelves of books.
The impulse to roam and cull the library stacks began in adolescence—the beginning of my separation from my close and loving mother and a sheltered home life. The freedom to discover and dip into stories, to savor and sample the details of stranger’s lives, was intoxicating. I did not know then that to choose a title such as Madam Curie: A Biography, would propel me into the life of a female physicist/chemist in France, her struggle as a woman in science, her happenstance discovery of radium metal in pitchblende, earning the honor as the first woman awarded the Nobel Prize.
I am grateful for the memory of curling up in a wing chair, eager to enter Madam Curie’s world. She was unlike any woman I had ever known— a mother, dedicated to her professional work—brave, engaged, compelling and oh, so smart in her mindful attention to detail. As I researched for this blog post, recalling the challenges and trajectory of her life, I realized that of course, she died as a result of exposure to the radiation emitting from the test tubes of radium she unwittingly carried in her pocket.
I prefer a true-to-life experience in the works I choose. In the stacks last week, I began my search with the name of an author suggested by a friend. The author did not appeal to me and in an instant, I entered an exploratory mode, methodically attending to other titles and reading first pages until I landed on The Gathering by Anne Enright.
I cannot tell you exactly why I chose Enright’s book. The fact that it was awarded the Man Booker Prize in 2007 caught my attention. It takes place in Ireland, which conjured the memory of a bucolic-green landscape, stone-walls shielding a rural two-lane road, people of wit and warmth, with poetic sensibility.
Enright is masterful in her ability to move between the past and present, the imagined and real. In all spheres, she is aware of relationships and their effect from multiple perspectives. She is, above all, mindful. In the very beginning, on page four, I note how she pays particular attention to her protagonist’s perspective of her childhood home—The house knows me. Always smaller than it should be; the walls run closer and more complicated than the ones you remember. The place is always too small.
I read The Gathering slowly. Enright’s lyrical, mystical writing demands it. Akin to listening to slow music, the rhythm dictates attentiveness. The varied beat of her language, the languor of her imagery lulls me to drift along, while the surprise as characters emerge and fade bolts me wide-awake. I am grateful for the ease of turning each page, the engagement of The Gathering.