The Gathering – Book Review

The Gathering 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. -From The Gathering, page 1-

Anne Enright won the 2007 Booker Prize for this novel set in Dublin which centers around a woman’s long repressed childhood memories. Veronica Hegerty is one of twelve children – a large and dysfunctional family with dark and unspoken secrets. The suicide of Veronica’s wayward brother Liam provides the catalyst for Veronica’s traumatic memories to surface. Told from Veronica’s point of view and switching from past to present and back to past again, the story is a twisting tale about the reliability of long buried events and the importance of uncovering secrets. Veronica’s revelations about what happened in her grandmother’s home so many years in the past are tangled up in alternative stories fabricated by Veronica, woven together with guilt and shame.

Veronica is a cold, cynical person – angry with her mother’s passivity, confused about her brother’s choices, and ambivalent about her siblings.

Meanwhile, the train chunters through England, clicketty-clack, and Bea talks on, sitting on my dead father’s knee with a ribbon in her hair, like the good little girl she has always been, and I look at the hills, trying to grow up, trying to let my father die, trying to let my sister enter her adolescence (never mind menopause). -From The Gathering, page 43-

She is a woman struggling in a rocky marriage which is made more unstable by Veronica’s negative view of men. But, she is not all hardness and anger. Veronica’s love for her children leaps from the pages and as the novel unfolds, the reader is drawn to Veronica, wanting to understand her and make sense of her life.

Enright leaves the reader with ambiguity in the end. The facts are hazy and the outcome of all the characters’ futures are unsure.

The power of this novel comes from Enright’s fresh language and her ability to expose her characters’ faults. Time and again I found myself stunned by the searing choice of words and phrasing; the graphic descriptions; and Enright’s ability to take the reader to an uncomfortable place to drive home her point.

The Gathering is a tough book which deals with a difficult subject matter. Enright seems to purposefully set out to shock the reader – dragging her through the muck of dysfunction and pain, stirring up the sediment in the lives of the characters to reveal their souls. Written with a great deal of intelligence, unerringly true to its characters, and staggering in its scope – The Gathering is a novel which is not easily forgotten.

Highly recommended; rated 4.5/5.

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  1. I’ve put a library request in for this because I love books where the language is the driving force and from what you say that is the case here. Thanks for the review.

  2. This is on my read list as I already have it in my TBR pile!

    BTW, I have tagged you:
    Click here!

    • 3m on March 11, 2008 at 02:24

    I’m just testing out your new subscribe-to-comments plug-in!

    • Wendy on March 11, 2008 at 11:27

    Ann: If you like books whose language drives the story, you’ll love this one.
    Gautami: Thanks! Teddy also tagged me for this one…I need to work on it 🙂

    • verbatim on March 11, 2008 at 17:00

    I agree that Enright is a very skilled writer, but this book was too dark for me — and that doesn’t happen often. It felt so oppressive, so devoid of anything of beauty that I literally felt nauseous at one point (if you’ve read the book you can guess where) and had to put the book down for a while. this all attests to Enright’s ability, but it is not a book I would recommend to everyone.

    • Wendy on March 14, 2008 at 06:43

    Verbatim, I agree it was a dark story…and a bit depressing. I wasn’t sure how to rate this one because I wanted to honor her writing which I found to just be superlative…yet the story itself was so difficult. I know there will be those who hate this one.

    • Teddy on March 16, 2008 at 17:09

    Thanks for the awesome review. This one is on my TBR.

    • Wendy on March 16, 2008 at 19:03

    You’re welcome, Teddy!

  3. Yes, we seem to have had largely the same take on it.

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