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, ring 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.